Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Diary of a Deputy - Week 3: Happy Tired


On Wednesday night I had the realisation that starting at a new school in September is way more tiring than returning to a school you've been working at for a while. I checked in with people on Twitter to see if this was a common experience and yes, it seems that it is:
After an accidental lie down and after being uncharacterisitcally useless at the children's bedtime (bless my wife for her understanding) I did some reading (finished off potential The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe replacement: Pier's Torday's There May Be A Castle and cried a fair bit at it) and then fell asleep half way through catching up on the Bake Off.

Many of the good folk over on Twitter pointed out that the cognitive overload that comes with starting at a new place of work can indeed be quite exhausting.

There are so many new people to meet and get to know: colleagues, children and parents. And it is more than just meeting them - I want to make a good impression too, and trying to be that aware of oneself all the time appears to be mentally draining. But in a job that I do believe has so much of a foundation on relationships, it's so important and worthwhile to make that effort.

And then there's all the new routines, strategies and systems to get used to: playtimes, schemes of work, the way that finance works, who does what, how to log into this, that and the other... the list would go on and on. Couple that with the fact that as a senior leader you're supposed to be the one who knows everything and you find yourself saying the same things a lot of times:
The other tiring thing is that when you enjoy a job so much you work hard at it. The whirlwind of senior leadership in a primary school is an exhilarating ride. It certainly makes me appreciate all the senior leaders I've been under before - it's as if the backdrop has fallen and I can suddenly see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on. And for teachers taking the main stage with the children this is exactly what is needed - they need to be unhindered in their most important task. Certainly a learning point for me this week: I'll be donning the all black outfit of the stagehand and doing my best to make sure the show goes on uninterrupted.

I also must mention my last school - it has been nice to bump into old colleagues as a few of them have been at my new place this week. I also received word of a mention of me in their staff meeting this week:

Teacher 1 (new literacy lead): So obviously you all use the Reading Roles which was started up by Aidan, who's no longer with us.
Teacher 2: May his soul rest in peace. Amen.

Gone (even if slightly cruelly killed off) but not forgotten, which is always nice to know. I walked past there this afternoon on my way to a meeting at another school and the familiar sight of the place where I spent the best four years of my career to date did warm my heart. Although I'm rather too busy to think about it very much at the moment I know I will never forget what I learned and acheived alongside a really brilliant team whilst there.

Nostalgia over; back to now. It's Thursday night - one more day at school containing PPA with the year 5 teachers and then coaching/mentoring with them in the afternoon whilst they take their NQT/leadership time. Must remember not to overload them - they're new too AND have a full teaching timetable so are bound to be even more tired than I am!

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The end to the week was great. A good friend of mine has started working at a school just down the road so we arranged to meet to catch up and debrief about new jobs, summer hols and building work. Between us we visited three cafes (all closed) and a pub (no card machine) before finding somewhere that was neither closed nor living in the past. It's this sort of thing that helps to make sure that work and life are balanced.

Plus, on the way home three of my most favourite songs were on the radio: Concrete Schoolyard by Jurassic 5, Goddess on a Hiway by Mercury Rev and Tell Me A Tale by Michael Kiwanuka. That makes for real good feels, even when you've just done a £50 shop in two hand baskets because you forgot a trolley pound. Music is my aeroplane.

The working week rounded off nicely with more socialising at our friends' house down the road - food, friendship and an ongoing game of guess the 90s tune and artist. After a tiring week being with people I love is as restful and revitalising for me as stopping at home.

Saturday morning breakfast is being cooked, the tunes are on (our summer anthem Saturday Sun by Vance Joy) and the Yorkshire Dales are calling us.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Diary of a Deputy Week 2: On Track

Friday again! There was no time midweek to catch up with any thoughts - evenings were filled with preparing for my littlest daughter's fifth birthday (wrapping all the presents family had ordered from the Internet),  making a presentation about year 5 for the parents and finishing of a piece entitled Metacognition and Primary Maths for the October issue of Teach Primary - perhaps it will appear in print with a more snappy title, but hopefully it will be a useful piece for the readers. I also managed to squeeze out a blog post here on my own blog which details an approach to writing characters that we have been trialling in year 5. I also managed to finish reading the forthcoming 'Powering Up Children' by Guy Claxton and Becky Carlzon - a really thought-provoking book with lots of implications for the approach to teaching and learning my new school has.

Days followed my official schedule - teaching afternoons in year 4 and 5, carrying out learning walks in the mornings, as well as co-planning with teachers in year 4 and 5. Wednesday evening saw me delivering training to the school's support staff on giving feedback (a favourite subject of mine, see herehere and here) before dashing off to celebrate with my daughter. On Thursday and Friday mornings I ran parent workshops for the new year 5 parents which, according to the feedback forms were recieved really well. There was lots of positivity surrounding the learning environment - particularly about the studio area we have set up where children have continuous access to a range of creative supplies, books and construction materials. We are still waiting on two bespoke woodwork benches, some shelving and some more general decorative items in order to complete the area - once that's done I'll be certainly sharing pictures of it and writing about how we use it, how we timetable for it, and so on. For now, check out the working Lego model of the earth and the moon that I've been working on in advance of a lesson next week:

I also discovered yesterday, and it was confirmed today, that the children have already done a unit on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe back when they were in year 2 - they even went on the same trip I was planning. Whilst redoing the whole book in greater depth and at a year 5 level wouldn't be a bad idea, it's probably a better idea to replan the unit. Having spent a lot of money already on supporting non-fiction texts about woodlands, castles and mythical creatures I'm looking for something that covers those bases. We have a few ideas - one strong possibility I will set about reading this weekend once I've finished Ross Mackenzie's very exciting The Nowhere Emporium.

But, a positive to end on. And a big positive: I love my job. What a privilege to work in a school where children love to be and where parents are so involved and supportive of their child's learning journey. It has been so good to spend more time with the children, staff and parents this week - I feel there is a real community vibe and it makes me very excited (and dare I say, passionate) about working at what I believe to be a really unique and special school. I have to say though, I am rather tired.

- - -

p.s. Just had an email to confirm that we have secured transport to take us on the trip we were supposed to go on last week (if you haven't read the first installment of my diary, you won't have read about how we turned up to the venue and we weren't booked in).

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

On Taking A Career Detour

Recently I've been cycling to work quite a bit - it's a great way to get exercise into the daily routine and has allowed us to be a one-car family again after we scrapped my MOT-failed runaround. But, because I've been working at my current school for nearly four years now, I've sought out a few detours to make the journey a little more interesting; a little more scenic.

One such detour took me off road, through woodland and around the side of a reservoir. As the already-risen sun reflected off the water and the quietness of my surroundings stilled my mind, I was caused to think on the nature of detours.

Detours are what makes life interesting. That I would stand by, and I was sure that some other greater mind must have summarised this thought in better words. Upon arrival I did a quick search for quotations about detours - there were plenty. Here's one of the most succinct:

"See any detour as an opportunity to experience new things." - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Many other quotations spoke of detours as a metaphor for events in life - something which, as I pedalled on my way, I too had contemplated. My morning ride round the reservoir was a picture of my career moves this year.

After three years as an Assistant Vice Principal (that's the academy speak for Assistant Head) I was presented with a new challenge: I applied for the role of Primary Lead Practitioner within the MAT my primary school is a part of. I was successful and I was excited to take on my new role supporting the handful of primary schools in the group. I was to work two days for the MAT and three days as AVP at my school. The decision was made that I wouldn't have a regular teaching commitment due to my reduced time in school - my 12th year in the job has been the first year I haven't had my own class. The end of August rolled around and thus began what I recognise now to have been my career detour.

I've always taken a one step at a time approach to my career, seeing my journey not as on a road but as one might cross a river on stepping stones. I've not waited for opportunities to be handed to me, but have sought them out when I've felt ready: I'm still skeptical about 5-year and 10-year plans. But what has happened is, as I've progressed, I've always found myself at a point where I do want to pursue management and leadership. Whilst I acknowledge this isn't the only progression path to take in education, it's the one I've found myself to be on, and I've enjoyed the ride so far.

I had begun to assume that my next move would be to Deputy Head and had concluded that this would mean a change of school. Indeed, I had applied for a Deputy Headship, but despite getting through a rather grueling two-day process with an oncoming case of my yearly laryngitis, I was unsuccessful, coming second to a more suitable candidate. It was, as they say, all good experience. That straightforward road from Assistant to Deputy was not meant to be for me - I was meant to take a detour.
Early on in my year of being Lead Primary Practitioner it became apparent that one of the schools I was working in needed more support than the others due to a reduced leadership team. I began spending more of my time there. This was to become a detour from my detour - my role changed significantly as I effectively became a two-day-a-week Deputy whilst the actual Deputy became Acting Head.

During this time I also took on an active role with the research school attending planning meetings, speaking at events, preparing and running a three-day course and writing material for the blog. Through the research school I also got involved briefly with the Opportunity Area work. My role as PLP also saw me being involved in the MAT's NQT and RQT network programme of events. My online activity was also of a significant quantity as I wrote for TES, Teach Primary, Third Space and Innovate My School, as well as for my own blog. All of this weighed heavily, not to mention my 'normal' job of leading maths, leading LKS2, mentoring three NQTs, two students and carrying out general SLT duties, became quite burdensome.

The fact that I spent a reduced amount of time in my own school (and had begun working with a brand new team there with none of my previous colleagues), and limited amounts of time in other schools, meant that I began to miss the relationships I had formed. I began to feel like I didn't belong anywhere in particular.

Then, in December, Ofsted called. I rushed back into school from elsewhere to spend the afternoon in the usual preparation. It was a rigorous couple of days but when we eventually received the verdict I discovered that I had had a previously unrecognised, hidden goal: the job advert I answered called me to join the school on their journey to Good and this is what, deep down, I had been hoping to achieve with my colleagues. And, from the school's previous inspection judgement of Inadequate, that was the journey our inspection report deemed us to have made. On receiving that news I realised I had achieved a goal, and that almost immediately I wanted a new challenge.

Without going into too much more detail this cocktail of responsibilities suddenly felt like a lot and I began to struggle quite significantly, questioning my purpose and my impact. I began to renege on speaking and writing commitments I'd made and also asked to have some of my more extraneous work responsibilities removed. Whilst I still have moments of difficulty these actions have been largely successful in preserving my sanity.

Don't get me wrong, there have been some excellent moments this year - the very fact that the school where I began spending two days a week employed me as their Deputy Head (starting at the end of August) is enough to make my detour all worthwhile. But the best part is that I have learned more about what I want in my career by experiencing things that I think, in the long run, I don't want to be particular features of my work.

Career-wise, I have learned that (at least for the time being):
  • I want to have a regular teaching commitment
  • I want to commit the majority of my time to working with and for one school rather than across several school 
  • I don't want to make a habit of public speaking
  • I want to continue to prioritise doing things that have a visible impact in classrooms that I frequent
  • I want to ensure that I don't deprioritise my own health or my family

More generally I have learned that detours, welcome or or otherwise, are great and worthy learning opportunities and that they certainly do make life interesting. Despite some bumpiness in the off-road nature of my career detour this year I have experienced new things, all of which have taught me, one way or another, a little more about myself and what I want from my career.

If you have made it through my personal ramblings, and are reading this final paragraph, I'd urge you, if opportunities arise, to take a detour. Whether it's a change in route on your actual journey to work or a step in a new, unexpected direction in your career, it will certainly keep life interesting and will probably teach you a thing or two along the way.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Guest Post: Why Tackling School Leader Workload Is Not Enough By Viv Grant


In March, Damian Hinds announced that the DfE were going to implement measures to reduce teacher workload in an attempt to head off the recruitment and retention crises facing many schools across the country.

Whilst this is a very welcome initiative, unfortunately it is much like putting a sticking plaster on a wound when something more substantial and curative is needed.

If policy makers honestly think that measures to reduce workload are all that’s needed to stem the rising tide of leavers from the profession, then this shows just how far removed they are from the beating heart of those who are at its centre - teachers and school leaders.

So much more must be done to make the role of School Leadership sustainable amidst the growing challenges our Heads face on a daily basis.

The pace and volume of change over the past decade has led to increased ambiguity, inconsistency, insecurity and staggeringly high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability. Meanwhile, the emphasis on data, results and policies such as academisation, free schools etc have only served to further complicate life as a School Leader.

As a result, Head teachers find themselves having to respond to a range of often conflicting national policy agendas. Many of which draw them away from their central school leadership role and into the world of local politics and excessively complicated levels of bureaucracy. The strain for many can be too much.

Yet the system seems immune to this fact and chooses to ignore the real reasons as to why so many school leaders are leaving the profession. Workload may be a contributing factor but it is not the sole one. School Leaders are leaving the profession because their needs as human beings are not being attended to. This is because we have yet to develop an accurate understanding of the support needs of school leaders.

Along with increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, I believe neglect in meeting Head teacher’s psychological and emotional needs has become a major contributing factor to Head teacher attrition and early retirement.

Whether Heads are new in post or are well established and long serving, too often the predominate type of support that they receive is that which is concerned with meeting the strategic and operational aspects of the role. Their emotional needs are often neglected and this is where the system falls down in fulfilling its duty of care for school leaders.

Consequently, Head teachers often sacrifice the meeting of their own needs in order to meet the needs of those they serve. This level of constant giving, without moments and opportunities for renewal built into their leadership life can often lead to illness and for some, burn out.

This has to be understood and taken seriously because if the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders are not met, not only do our School Leaders themselves suffer but all school improvement efforts are also put at risk.

I fear this situation has been further compounded with local authorities now diminishing in size, meaning that there have been fewer and fewer opportunities where Heads can come together, to offer support for one another, and experience a real sense of collegiality and shared purpose to help combat this.

I feel this reduction of support has been felt across the profession and that’s why on the back of many requests from School Leaders, last year I began hosting “Education for the Soul” Conferences to offer a chance where Heads can have honest conversations about the issues they’re facing, replenish their passion and sense of purpose, and discover how to best support their own needs amidst the challenging demands of Headship.

Whilst I’ve seen what an incredible truly restorative events these can be, I still fear far more needs to be done across the country if we are to tackle this recruitment and retention crisis. We need a whole new conversation around how we support great leadership in schools and to find solutions that takes care of the “Person in the role”.

Meanwhile, policy makers finally recognise that workload measures are not enough. Instead they must learn that if they want help create outstanding schools, they must provide School Leaders and Headteachers with outstanding support.

The price of continually failing to do so is one we can no longer afford to pay. As when we fail to adequately recognise what it takes to create ‘Great School Leaders’, we also fail our children and their hopes of a better tomorrow.

Our children deserve the best care and education and our school leaders also deserve the best care that can be provided so that they can remain in the profession, fulfil their vocations and meet society’s hopes and dreams for our future generations.

Viv has been in the education profession for over twenty five years. She is a former primary head teacher and has been a lead trainer and consultant for a number of educational training bodies. Now as an Executive Coach and Director of Integrity Coaching, Viv works daily with others who have taken on the mantle of school leadership.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

From The @TES Blog: Teacher Development: The Balance Bike Approach

So far, I’ve successfully taught two of my three daughters to ride a two-wheeled pedal bike. While I learned to cycle the traditional way, by using stabilisers and then ditching them once I was a bit more confident, I've eschewed that for my own children and instead followed the current trend for balance bikes.

It really does work, reducing the complexity of the learning process. And it made me think: when we develop teachers’ skills, either during initial training or as part of ongoing professional development, should we use a balance bike approach, or should we bolt on stabilisers?

Allow me to flesh out the analogy...

Click here to read the whole article: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/how-a-balance-bike-approach-training-will-give-us-better-teachers

Saturday, 24 February 2018

From The @thirdspacetweets Blog: EEF Report Summary: Putting Evidence To Work


My work with Bradford Research School has really turned me on to the work of the EEF. So when they release another a guidance report I'm always keen to read it first to find out what its implications are. The latests one applies to all subjects and all schools but here, in this blog post for Third Space, I outline how I should have used it had it been published in time, and how I will use it in the future to introduce any new changes.

Winds of change blew in the world of primary Maths when the 2014 National Curriculum was introduced. We now had to teach some things sooner, other things later, some things not at all and there were additions too (hello, Roman numerals!). The ‘new’ holy trinity of Maths teaching and learning were introduced: fluency, problem solving and reasoning.

Then the SATs gradually changed. The calculation paper had already been done away with; next to go was the mental Maths test, replaced by the arithmetic test. And the reasoning tests appeared to begin to assess how pupils were doing on the 2014 curriculum ahead of schedule. The two new reasoning papers were perceived by many to be more difficult than before.

And so, up and down the land, Maths leaders and teachers have been making changes to the way the subject is taught in their schools...

Click here to read on: https://thirdspacelearning.com/blog/eef-putting-evidence-work-report-slt-summary/


Monday, 18 December 2017

On The @TES Blog: Idealistic Leaders vs. Realistic Teachers




"Teachers must…", "Teachers need to…", "Teachers should…"

These are potentially my most used phrases when writing articles on education. Occasionally other groups will be on the receiving end of my strongly worded ‘advice’, but usually it’s teachers because teaching is what I know.

Recently, I have been pulled up on my use of these phrases – turns out teachers don’t like being told what to do. Now there’s a surprise.

My sharing comes from a desire to help others, never from a position of wanting to overburden and bludgeon teachers who are already striving to do their best. But I can see how it comes across sometimes and it got me thinking...

Click here to read more over on the TES blog

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My Year As A Teaching Leaders Fellow

I use my blog as a kind of scrapbook, a central place to keep a record of things I've written that have ended up elsewhere in other publications and on other websites. This time I wanted to preserve these photographs from my graduation from the Teaching Leaders programme that I took part in during the '16/'17 academic year.

I was pleased to graduate with commendation and to also have won the Ann Brougham values award for the primary North cohort. I was peer nominated (thank you, whoever you are!) for the award which was created in memory of the first Lead Coach on Teaching Leaders, and is presented to a Fellow who has remained true to their values, supported their peers on the programme and displayed an unrelenting commitment to the Ambition School Leadership mission. The award goes to the Fellow that has demonstrated ASL's core organisational values of mastery, grit, empowerment, teamwork and integrity to an outstanding level throughout the programme. For the prize I was able to choose a book; my choice was Patrick Lencioni's 'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team', and there is significance in that choice.

Patrick Lencioni's 'The Advantage' really helped me to wrestle with gaining a clarity of vision way back in November of last year at the beginning of my Teaching Leaders journey; I blogged about it in a post somewhat bizarrely entitled 'Dogs & Sledges: Harnessing Action To Clarity Of Vision':

Patrick Lencioni recommends that once that first question 'Why do we exist?' has been answered leaders can then go on to ask themselves 'How do we behave?', 'What do we do?', 'How will we succeed?', 'What is most important, right now?' and 'Who must do what?'. In schools, we often have deeply entrenched answers to these questions and we carry on in those ways regardless of whether we know our 'why' or not.

In that blog post I also referenced many of the speakers from the Teaching Leaders residential: 
I was challenged by some inspirational leaders to ensure that I was clear in my vision. Steve Radcliffe, coach to powerful and influential figures the world over encouraged me first to think of the future before engaging others in that vision of the future. Andy Buck told me to focus on one thing in order to gain clarity. Baroness Sue Campbell reiterated the need to be clear on where we are going, asking me to consider if everyone gets my vision and wants to follow me. She also caused me to consider whether my targets were good enough and whether or not I knew what great looked like. James Toop discussed creating culture - my key piece of learning from that session: 'Be clear on what my vision is', I wrote in my Moleskine - I knew that without a clear vision I would struggle to create a culture within my own team. Sir David Carter issued a performance challenge, the first point of which was to 'de-clutter'...
Since then I have written three blog posts for the Ambition School Leadership blog, each reflecting on an aspect of my leadership journey:

My Ambition Isn't Just About Me: 
http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/my-ambition-isnt-just-about-me.html
The education system has its challenges but I see potential in a system whose workforce are positive and optimistic about how they can influence those within their sphere. Imagine the impact that could be had if every leader in every school saw the potential in being solution-orientated, finding innovative ways to make the system work for the schools we work in. It is my ambition to ensure that this is always done, for the benefit of the learners, at the schools I work in.
Leadership Lessons: Letting Go And Letting Them: 
http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/how-watership-down-and-unique.html

I realised that, as a leader, I often attempted to do it all, even when there were others in my team who were better for the job. Furthermore, the experiential brought it home to me that I actually felt threatened by those who were better at something than I was. I found that I harboured feelings of resentment towards those I was supposed to be leading and my negative feelings were not conducive to good leadership and teamwork. 
Looking Back On My Moleskin Moments:
http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/on-ambition-school-leadership-blog.html
Although so much of what I learned last year on Teaching Leaders is now internalised and has become a natural part of how I function as a leader, it’s good to know that whenever I need a reminder my moleskine is there, immortalising the wisdom of a year so well spent honing my leadership skills.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

On The Ambition School Leadership Blog: Looking Back On My Moleskine Moments

Last year I took part in the Teaching Leaders programme from Ambition School Leadership. In my latest blog post for them I reflect on a year well spent with the aid of my trusty Teaching Leaders Moleskine notebook.

Read the blog post here: https://www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/blog/looking-back-my-moleskine-moments/

If you are interested in their primary middle leaders programme, click here: https://www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/programmes/teaching-leaders-primary/

And for their secondary programme, click here: https://www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/programmes/teaching-leaders-secondary/

For their other programmes, explore their website: https://www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/programmes/

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

From the @TES Blog: 10 Tips For Successfully Leading a Subject


https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/10-tips-successfully-leading-a-subject

So you've been given a subject to lead. But where do you start? And how do you get everyone interested enough to teach your subject effectively in an already overcrowded primary timetable?

If you are leading on a non-core subject, the challenges can be particularly difficult to overcome. But by following these 10 steps, you will be better placed to make your subject shine.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/10-tips-successfully-leading-a-subject

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wellbeing in Schools: A Framework

When one thinks of an empowered teacher, one does not call to mind the image often linked with that of a teacher; frazzled, harassed, clutching their umpteenth cup of coffee and making a mad dash to their next class, eventually settling down later at home to spend their evening beavering away at marking books, planning the next day's lessons, and all whilst drowning in a sea of that notorious 'paperwork'.

And sadly, there are many teachers out there who fit that description, and, as a result, they run the risk of struggling to provide meaningful educational outcomes for the children they teach. I've known teachers like it and there have been times when I've experienced it myself.

No, an empowered teacher is one who manages their workload carefully and has both work and life evenly balanced, and who consequently is an effective classroom practitioner. But very few teachers set out to have a heavy workload, a poor work/life balance and low levels of wellbeing. It is true that every teacher attempting to maintain good levels of wellbeing ideally needs the support of their leaders. And with schools increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of their pupils it is important that those who have the most contact with them - teachers - have good physical and mental wellbeing.

Maintaining one's wellbeing is an ongoing task which is often seen almost to be a selfish act. However, in considering our own wellbeing we must be aware of how our actions impact on the wellbeing of others. We all have a responsibility to those we live and work with to ensure that the things we do and say have a positive effect on them; improving levels of wellbeing is a collaborative act which should benefit all.

Every teacher can lead for the wellbeing of their pupils and their colleagues. We should stop waiting for someone to provide opportunities for us to improve our wellbeing and begin to create opportunities for ourselves and those within our sphere of influence. Regardless of position or status, we all have the opportunity and responsibility to lead for wellbeing. Having said this, there are very clear and important messages for those with formally-recognised positions of authority.

With these things in mind, let's look at:
  • The responsibilities and challenges for school leaders (i.e. those with recognised positions of leadership)
  • The responsibilities and challenges for teachers
  • The influence on (and of) students
This structure is intended to demonstrate that high levels of well-being should ideally be cascaded down from the leadership, to the teachers and then to the students.

The responsibilities and challenges for school leaders

A leader who does not prioritise their own wellbeing is easily identifiable; they probably run a tight ship, but to the possible detriment of the health of them selves and their staff and pupils. A leader who does prioritise their own wellbeing will also be identifiable by the happiness and willingness of their staff and pupils - they too will run a tight ship. It's just how the ship shape-ness is achieved that's different - that and the longevity of the ship shape-ness.

In order to for their staff to reflect well on them, a leader's staff must reflect their leader. Thus, leaders must model good habits - they must be seen to be taking care of themselves and making decisions which don't impact negatively on their own health. Of course leaders might be expected to put in more hours than those they are leading - they are paid accordingly - but this should still not be to the detriment of their health and wellbeing. When teaching staff see that their leaders prioritise wellbeing, they will feel able to do the same; by leading by example the leaders will have created a culture which values high levels of wellbeing.

Leaders who lead successfully on wellbeing will also have careful expectations of what is achievable and they will ensure that workload is manageable for each individual in their circumstance. They will pass every new initiative through a filter, ensuring that what is expected of teachers does not cause undue stress or demand extra work. It is also the responsibility of a leader to point out where and how expected tasks could be carried out more effectively and more time-efficiently; often it is the time a job takes that impacts most on wellbeing. If time spent working can legitimately be reduced then a more well-rested staff will be better prepared to work with children.

Successful wellbeing leadership depends on leaders listening to their staff. Each teacher knows their limits and should feel that they work in an environment where they can voice their concerns. For the sake of the children as well as the staff member, leaders should always be in tune to the thoughts and feelings of their employees, gaining ongoing dynamic feedback on the impact of their expectations on health and well-being.

Many leaders are attempting to respond to the increasing awareness of the presence of mental health issues in both teachers and pupils. This is a positive move but leaders should not enforce any particular health and well-being activities; what might improve someone's wellbeing might have a negative impact on another's. If someone takes part in such an activity but thinks to themselves 'it'd have been better for my well-being to have gone home and done my own thing' then they're probably right. Leaders can't assume to know what will positively impact a person's wellbeing. If they do want to give CPD time over to wellbeing it should be aimed at improving skills such as management of time and workload.

The responsibilities and challenges for teachers

In an ideal situation a school's leaders will be doing all of the above to ensure that a their members of staff have a good level of health and well-being. But the buck does not stop with leaders; teachers have a responsibility for their own wellbeing and must do all they can to ensure they are well, for the good of themselves, their relationships and the children they teach. Teachers must lead on their own wellbeing, even if, and especially when, their leaders are not.

Workload, and therefore amount of time spent working, impacts on wellbeing more than any other aspect of a teacher's job. It must be a priority for teachers to find ways of working efficiently and creating healthy working habits. Teachers should learn to prioritise, deciding what really needs to be done and what can wait. They should also concentrate on doing one or two things well on any given day – the ones that obviously need doing soonest. Many teachers would benefit from being more organised and making time by planning ahead. Another small but effective practice is maximisation: making the most of the small chunks of time to complete short tasks. An essential time-saving habit is collaboration with other teachers; when teachers nurture good working relationships with colleagues help is at hand; lesson ideas, pre-made resources and even a sympathetic ear.

When teachers are considering how to improve their well-being they must be aware that solutions are not one-size-fits-all. What works for one may not work for another; teachers should take into consideration their own unique circumstances when attempting to make changes to their working patterns.

Teaching requires a lot of hard work; most teachers are aware of what they signed up for. Teaching is also a job for whichever there aren't enough hours in the day; teachers could fill all their time with work-related jobs but common sense and research show that this is not productive. Productivity relies on rest yet so many teachers neglect sleep and time spent occupied by non-work-related activities such as hobbies and time with family and friends. Although term time can be action-packed, teachers should consider making the most of the holidays and the other natural breaks that present themselves every now and then.

Those who don't have senior leaders supportive of the wellbeing of their staff must seek to improve their wellbeing in any way they can. In addition to the ideas already outlined it is crucial that they challenge decisions made by leaders which negatively impact wellbeing. In situations such as this teachers should work together to approach their leaders, possibly with union backing (but maybe not in the first instance), in order to seek change. It helps on these occasions to be prepared with evidence and ideas for workable alternatives.

Wellbeing should be as much a priority for teachers as lesson planning, assessment and resource preparation.

The influence on (and of) students

Although this section focuses on students, the emphasis remains on the role and responsibilities of the members of a school's staff who spend their time with the children. If a school's leaders are doing their job well, and teachers are also prioritising their own wellbeing, then half of the battle of influencing student wellbeing is already won. What teachers often attempt to pass on through motivational posters and one-off assemblies will only really be passed on by the atmosphere that is naturally created by teachers who are themselves well. There is much truth in the idea that healthy (and indeed unhealthy) habits and mentalities are caught and not taught. Many schools who purport to have a strong emphasis on student well-being forget the influencing factor of staff well-being on students.

As well as setting a good example to students teachers should also listen to and observe students in order to identify traits of good or poor wellbeing. Physical signs such as tiredness and weight loss should be monitored closely. Changes in behaviour are also possible indicators to poor wellbeing, both mental and physical: emotional outbursts or becoming unusually quiet and withdrawn could point towards well-being issues that need addressing.

If we want to listen to what students are saying about the state of their own wellbeing then teachers must teach children to be wellbeing literate - we must exhibit and encourage the use of language and vocabulary which enable students to self-reflect and verbalise their thoughts and feelings. Again, this is something better caught than taught; the use of story is particularly useful here as many age-appropriate novels and picturebooks skilfully explore well-being issues which teachers could use to promote discussion.

It is worth noting that when student well-being is good there will be a positive impact on the wellbeing of staff: Not only do we influence the wellbeing of pupils, they impact on the wellbeing of their teachers; if students are happy then teachers are more likely to be happy too. In the experience of many teachers poor student behaviour has caused more stress than excessive workload. If we prioritise staff wellbeing as well as student well-being a virtuous circle will be created.

Conclusion

In order for teachers to ensure that their students are not only well, but that they are learning successfully, teachers and leaders must see that there are actions to take that are within their powers. It is important to realise that where wellbeing is concerned teachers shouldn't rely on possible future policy change or successful union action to bring about improvements in their wellbeing but that improvements can be made despite the demands of the current educational environment. Teachers must understand that their remit to care for the wellbeing of students means that they have a responsibility to care for their own wellbeing. Leaders must view their responsibility to teachers and students in the same way if they want to run a successful school where student outcomes are optimised.

Further reading on teacher welbeing at the Schoolwell site: schoolwell.co.uk/staff-wellbeing-research/ 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

People Can't Be Radiators If Their Leaders Drain Them And Give Them Nothing To Radiate


I'm not really sure where it came from but the idea of an organisation being made up either of radiators or drains is fairly well known - it's even made its way into the vernacular of school leaders.

If you've not come across it, it's very simple: radiators radiate positive energy and such like, whereas drains drain said energy. It's not a bad analogy really - we can all identify certain teachers we know within the two categories. Most teachers, in reality, will probably flit between being a radiator and a drain depending on the circumstances(I know I do). And there probably is some sort of middle ground too - it just doesn't have a straightforward parallel in the world of plumbing.

So, a reflection as a leader who hopes that his team will all be, for want of a better phrase, radiators: I can't expect people to be 'radiators' instead of 'drains' if I'm draining them and giving them very little to radiate.

It's funny what leads to these ruminations: a couple of mishaps with removing radiators during some redecorating got me thinking about how radiators work.

Radiators do not create their own heat. They only radiate heat which is generated in the boiler. Middle leaders are often referred to as the 'engine room' of an organisation. For the purposes of this analogy they are actually the 'boiler room' of a school. And not just middle leaders, senior leaders too. It is leaders who must be generating the heat, or the positive energy, for their staff to be radiating.

Leaders must set the climate - whatever they themselves radiate will be what their teams radiate. If a leader is a drain then their teams will feel drained and will have nothing to radiate - just like a radiator which has just fallen off its bracket and has spurted putrid water all over the newly-fitted carpet.

There are many ways that, as a leader, I might drain my staff. I might have unrealistic expectations of how they plan, mark, prepare or teach. I might fail to support them enough to enable them to cope with changes. I might not provide the necessary emotional support or foster the kind of relationships that are conducive to good teamwork and good teaching. There are a million and one ways I might drain my staff - every choice I make will have a knock-on effect, either positive or negative. As a leader I have to constantly evaluate how my actions will impact on my team, and whether they will drain them of energy or energise them.

Valuing having a team of radiators means that as well as avoiding draining them, I also must give them something to radiate. In order for me to have that positive energy (a loose term, I know) I must ensure that my boiler is fully-serviced and running efficiently. In short, I have to take care of myself in order to set the climate. The balance is a fine one though: I shouldn't ensure my own wellbeing to the detriment of the wellbeing of my team members. For example, when delegating a job I shouldn't just offload it to someone else if it means my load is lightened and theirs is made heavier. All the same, I see good levels of my own wellbeing as an essential part of enabling my team to be radiators.

It is my hope that my enthusiasm for the privileged and exciting role we hold in shaping children's futures will be conducted to the teachers who work with me. But there is no such thing as wireless plumbing, or osmosis, in a heating system - it takes some careful and deliberate pipe work to connect each teacher to the boiler. It will take a great deal of my thoughtfulness to enable each member of my team to radiate the positive energy that makes education possible.

The brilliant thing about creating a heating system like this is that (and here's where the analogy totally falls apart) anyone can then be the boiler creating that positive energy. The energy is generated exponentially as each team member begins to contribute, enabled by the initial example of their leader.

Even if this whole analogy leaves you cold (sorry), there is merit in its basis: leaders can either be radiators or drains, and whichever one they are, their team will most likely follow suit. Turn up the thermostat, keep that pilot light burning and bring the heat to your classrooms this week!



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Leadership Lessons: Letting Go And Letting Them


"It is not a weakness to allow someone else to take prominence, it is a sign of confidence, strength and, ultimately, good leadership."

World Book Day seems an appropriate time to reflect on reading Richard Adam's children's classic 'Watership Down' which reminded me of a very valuable learning experience I had at Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders Residential.

Looking for leadership advice from a rabbit

In the book, the group of escaping rabbits are led by Hazel who proves himself to be an excellent leader; one rabbit comments to some others that ‘he must be good or you'd all be dead’. For rabbits whose main aim is to survive, Hazel is the perfect leader. But, as I read, I noticed something incredible.

Click here to continue reading

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

On Scrutinising Scrutiny and The Coaching Model

A recent discussion on Twitter centred around the regularity with which senior leaders in schools "scrutinised" teachers' lessons, books and planning. Many expressed shock and surprise at the apparent regularity of these activities in some schools. Some commentators linked high frequency of "scrutiny" to mistrust.

The word "scrutiny" will always carry negative connotations, especially for teachers. Its definition is critical observation or examination or surveillance; close and continuous watching - neither of which do anything to make it sound like something teachers would want done to them. The word has negative connotations for clear reasons - it's like teachers are being spied on. And spies don't trust anyone or anything. So yeah; mistrust.

Remove the word "scrutiny" from the scenario though and the act leaders of looking at lessons, books and planning (I use "looking" deliberately as a word devoid of much nuanced meaning) is a necessary thing in schools; leaders must know what is going on at the chalkface, they'd be poor leaders if they didn't. As a result, I would go so far as to argue that the frequent "looking" is absolutely crucial. But it all depends what the "looking" is for. It depends on how and why the "looking" is done. Leadership guru Andy Buck commented that it 'all depends on the climate within which these things are done'.

It's an absolute cliche, and one which causes teachers to curl, at the very least, their toes, but if all this "looking" is truly done for development's sake then the "looking" will be seen by teachers as a positive thing. And it will be welcomed. If areas of development are identified as true areas of development, rather than just things that are being done badly, and if a leader then takes steps to work on those areas of development with a teacher, then teachers will look more favourably on all the "looking". I have heard of schools who continually collect such data but then never do anything about it. It is absolutely imperative that if leaders collect data on 'teacher performance' (for want of a better and less punitive-sounding phrase) regularly they should be doing something about their findings. In my school, and in increasing numbers of others, that something is coaching.

Our model of coaching is adapted from the one outlined in Paul Bambrick-Santoyo's 'Leverage Leadership'. The main difference, and pertinent to this discussion, is that instead of weekly drop-ins and coaching sessions, we conduct a drop-in (15 minutes in a lesson, teachers know which week but not which lesson - this has encouraged teachers to 'just do what they normally do') one week and a coaching session (30 minutes) the next week. For clarity's sake it is school leaders who conduct both the drop-in and the coaching session - I have heard of some models of coaching centred more around peer coaching. Leaders usually drop in on and coach members of their own team.

A sports analogy by way of rationale for the regularity of what we call the coaching cycle:

"Teachers are like tennis players: they develop most quickly when they receive frequent feedback and opportunities to practice." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p65) A tennis coach is regularly present during practice, as well as matches. If they only turned up at the match and commented on how they played that game, and then didn’t show up until the next tournament, then the tennis player is not receiving effective coaching and will struggle to improve.

To explain more, here are some of the core ideas behind Bambrick-Santoyo's model of coaching:
  1. "By receiving weekly observations and feedback, a teacher develops as much in one year as most teachers do in 20." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p65) Coaching has to be done consistently and regularly.
  2. "Observation and feedback are only fully effective when leaders systematically track which teachers have been observed, what feedback have received, and whether that feedback has improved their practice." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p62) Coaching outcomes have to be tracked so that they leaders are aware of what to be looking for in future observations, and so that improvements can be celebrated.
  3. "The primary purpose of observation should not be to judge the quality of teachers, but to find the most effective ways to coach them to improve student learning." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p63) Observations are not summative, they are formative, therefore the whole process is designed to be supportive. In our experience, teachers have received coaching positively and understand that it is for their benefit, and the benefit of the children.
  4. Feedback should be given face-to-face and should provide specific and manageable action steps for improvement. A coaching session is a discussion where the coach questions the coachee to enable them to analyse their own practice, leading to them identifying their own point for developing – this enables them to internalise the feedback. Face-to-face meetings are more useful than lengthy written evaluations. 
Once a lesson drop-in has been conducted, the coaching session will usually follow a similar pattern:
  • Precise praise: "The most effective praise is directly linked to the teacher’s previous action step: you validate the teacher’s effort at implementing feedback." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p80) Coaching sessions allow coaches and coaches to highlight and celebrate the progress and improvements.
  • Probe: "When giving feedback start with a probing question that narrows the focus of the teacher to a particular part of the lesson." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p81)
  • Identify problem and concrete action step: "We learn best when we can focus on one piece of feedback at a time. Giving less feedback, more often, maximises teacher development." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p70) "Action steps need to be bite-sized: changes teachers can make in one week." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p75) Rather than observing once a term and giving a long list of areas for development, coaching provides regular, manageable next steps.
  • Practice: "Great teaching is not learnt through discussion. It’s learned by doing – or more specifically, by practicing doing things well. Supervised practice is the fastest way to make sure all teachers are doing the right things." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p86)
  • Plan ahead: "Practicing and planning ahead go hand in hand: practice the skill and then adjust the coming lessons." (Bambrick-Santoyo, p87)
Personally, I don't like the use of the word 'problem' as it isn't aspirational but it has clearly been chosen so that it begins with P like the rest, and it does the job well enough.

To finish, as you reflect on the process outlined above and begin to form your own opinions of it, a couple of quotes from two teachers in my team who are coachees in the coaching process:

“Coaching has really helped me fine tune my teaching in different areas of the curriculum and is continuing to help me become a better teacher every day. It supports my pedagogy as we are in a fast-paced environment and keeping up to date with  new ideas and policies can be tricky alone! The 1-2-1 support is really effective and is making a big difference 😊 Thank you!”

"The coaching has been informal, supportive and best of all, useful! Achievable, realistic and logical targets are set which have had a real impact on my teaching and, as a result, the learning going on in my class. Thanks."

The frequency becomes a non-issue when the processes involved are truly developmental and supportive. The model taken from 'Leverage Leadership' is just one way of making this happen, there are probably many other ways of doing it - this article is supposed to outline one way of doing it with the purpose of showing that regular interaction between leaders and teachers can be a positive thing for all involved, and a thing that gets results for the children.

Please feel free to ask any questions about our approach and do try to read the whole section (Chapter 2: Observation and Feedback) in Paul Bambrick-Santoyo's book 'Leverage Leadership' as it expands on the ideas laid out above.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My Ambition Isn't Just About Me

Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt once said “It is my fervent wish and my greatest ambition to leave a work with a few useful instructions for the pianists after me.” And that’s my ambition too. Well, apart from the pianists bit.

Leaving a few useful instructions actually sounds a little unambitious, but in essence that’s what education’s all about. If those ‘few instructions’ were how to multiply two digit numbers by four digit numbers and how to hyphenate words then, as a teacher, I’d be lacking in ambition. But if they are how to be confident in your own abilities, how to be respect others and perhaps ultimately how to be ambitious, then my ambition is great.

Click to continue reading this article on the Ambition School Leadership website.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dogs & Sledges: Harnessing Action To Clarity Of Vision

Inferring information from a text. Vocabulary building. Mental recall strategies. Written methods for calculations. Reasoning. Test skills. Attitude to learning. Accelerated progress. Improved combined ARE scores. Mastery. Greater depth. Inclusion. Just a few of my priorities this year. All things my team and I are working full-throttle to ensure are embedded in our lessons and culture. We look for as many opportunities as possible to address these issues, always trying to safeguard the children from feeling the pressure of all this. And I work hard to shield my team from all of the pressure, too, even when I have a sleepless Sunday night because it's all turning over in my mind. 

Imagine these 'priorities' as husky dogs running amok in an Alaskan landscape, wild-eyed, full of energy but lacking in purpose. Some of them are gainfully employed, hunting, rearing their young, but others are tearing around aimlessly, chasing their own tails, never achieving much of any use.

Simon Sinek encourages us to 'start with why'. His main idea is that leaders and organisations can inspire others by being clear on their purpose; by having clarity of vision. According to his website 'Simon Sinek believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.' But without a clear purpose and a shared vision it is very difficult for collaboration and teamwork to take place, let alone building together for a bright future. And this is particularly difficult in schools where it is often perceived that everything is a priority. In schools we can be spinning so many plates that it's hard to tell which ones are actually contributing towards the vision that the school has. Patrick Lencioni's book 'The Advantage' (click here for a summary) proposes that organisations, and that can include schools, should think through the answers to six questions. The first of these is 'Why do we exist?': start with why. 

Suppose we see 'why' as a sled. A team of husky dogs properly employed will be guided by their leader from the seat of the sled. The purpose of the dogs comes from the sled and its driver, but the dogs are the ones who do the work, pulling the sled to its destination. All our actions to improve the issues outlined earlier should be harnessed to a purpose, otherwise they are just actions; actions which may achieve something, but are never destined to definitely have specific outcomes.

Patrick Lencioni recommends that once that first question 'Why do we exist?' has been answered leaders can then go on to ask themselves 'How do we behave?', 'What do we do?', 'How will we succeed?', 'What is most important, right now?' and 'Who must do what?'. In schools, we often have deeply entrenched answers to these questions and we carry on in those ways regardless of whether we know our 'why' or not. Look at my list in the opening paragraph - we definitely know what we do! We are also fairly clear on how we behave and who must do what, but often none of this is aligned to a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve. As a result we perhaps lose sight of what is most important right now - it's hard to tell if all the things we are doing are actually useful and having an impact.

We must start with why. We must start with our sled and its driver. In schools we have to think 'What is the end of the journey?' Where does our sled need to go? Steven Covey cites the importance of planning backwards: 'Begin with the end in mind.' Without a sled a distant arctic destination would be very difficult to reach; without the 'why' an aspirational goal will similarly be a struggle to achieve. And Lencioni does recommend that when answering the first question we have to be 'completely idealistic' and that the 'why' that we arrive at should be 'grand and aspirational'. We should be setting an optimistic vision initially.

Lencioni also outlines six possible categories for the question 'Why do we exist?': customer, industry, greater cause, community, employees and wealth. There are some of these categories that we can rule out right away: we don't run schools to make money, our schools don't exist simply to give employees a job and although many consider teaching to be vocational, we don't do it because we love the industry of teaching. That leaves three categories: customer, greater cause and community. The 'why' of the community category is making 'a specific geographical place better'; I'd argue that to be an indicator of success for a school, but not it's main purpose (although for some schools, this might be their main purpose). Which means the 'why' of a school is either about our customers, the children, or a greater cause. The greater cause of education might be seen as, rather than educating for education's sake, focusing on the reasons why we educate - and those reasons are many, depending on who you are. So it is possible that a school's 'why' is probably a mix of existing for the customer and a greater cause. 

Once an optimistic vision of the future has been set, once the sled has been prepared, it is then time to begin to harness those huskies: which dogs would work best towards a common goal? Which ones would work together well? Which ones would pull off in another direction? Which ones would be too weak to provide enough pulling power? Which ones would require disproportionate amount of sustenance to their output? Our analogy points towards a reassessment of all the things that we do just because that's what we do. Schools need to work out whether the things they are madly doing actually contribute to achieving their goals. They need to decide whether the overall vision is being realised by all the actions that are taking place: the interventions, the CPD, the focus of planning and teaching, the conversations SLT are having, etcetera, etcetera. It might be that some of the dogs have to be turned loose - sadly, as arctic explorers know, there is no allowance for sentiment. There is no point in doing things in schools simply because we love doing them - everything must have a purpose greater than tradition or romance.

During the summer I attended the Teaching Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) residential as a fellow of the programme (only having to complete the second year of the two-year programme). I was challenged by some inspirational leaders to ensure that I was clear in my vision. Steve Radcliffe, coach to powerful and influential figures the world over encouraged me first to think of the future before engaging others in that vision of the future. Andy Buck told me to focus on one thing in order to gain clarity. Baroness Sue Campbell reiterated the need to be clear on where we are going, asking me to consider if everyone gets my vision and wants to follow me. She also caused me to consider whether my targets were good enough and whether or not I knew what great looked like. James Toop discussed creating culture - my key piece of learning from that session: 'Be clear on what my vision is', I wrote in my Moleskine - I knew that without a clear vision I would struggle to create a culture within my own team. Sir David Carter issued a performance challenge, the first point of which was to 'de-clutter' - cutting loose those dogs which are not helping to pull the sled in a common direction in huge pursuit of a common destination.

Walt Disney said 'Of all the things I've done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.' And so, I have come to a place where I have an analogy to help me to begin to think through my answer to the question 'Why do we exist?' Perhaps if I were opening a new school I might find that question easier to answer but as it is I'm working in a fully-functioning school complete with it's embedded practice and so I have to begin by ignoring what all those dogs (remember the dogs are the things we are busy doing, not the people themselves!) are doing for the time being and focusing on what they could achieve if they were harnessed to just the one sled. My current thinking needs to revolve not around what we can do next, but around what we want to achieve by doing all the things we are doing. Once I have clarity it will be my job to communicate that clear vision and to begin to de-clutter and streamline, letting go those practices which don't contribute to the vision and carefully implementing new ones that truly align to the goals we set.

Friday, 28 October 2016

From the TES Magazine: Teachers Who Just Want To Teach


This article was published in the TES magazine on 28th October. It explores how to support teachers who have no desire to do anything but remain in the classroom and teach. I was particularly chuffed that my second outing in the magazine was accompanied by a picture of the late, great Robin Williams in his masterpiece 'Dead Poets Society'.

Many teachers choose not to climb the career ladder up into the ivory tower of senior leadership. For most, their reasons are admirable: they got into teaching to work with children and that’s the way that they want it to stay. And who can knock that as an ambition?

To continue reading, follow the link: https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/teachers-who-just-want-teach You will need a TES subscription to read this article.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Learning To Fall


"If you can't ride, can you fall?"
"I suppose anyone can fall," said Shasta.
"I mean can you fall and get up again without crying and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?” 
― C.S. LewisThe Horse and His Boy

Picture this:
A skatepark on the edge of a council estate. The rubbish bin burns to keep the midges away. I've just regained a few of my old tricks and got a bit of confidence back. I realise one of the young lads watching (the ones who set the fire in the bin after asking us "Do you mind if we put the fire on?") is a former pupil and strike up conversation; he's now 17 and studying welding at college. His mate asks me how long I've been skating; I tell him a long time but I haven't been doing it for about 10 years. He seems surprised, impressed. He goes on to compliment me on the way I fall - I had fallen a fair few times whilst he spectated and at first it seemed an odd observation to make. After a moment's thought, my reply: "You learn how to fall faster than you learn how to do anything else."
Learning to fall. I knew there must be an analogy in there somewhere. 
Most participants in extreme sports know the importance of learning to fall in order to minimise damage. Falling is such an inevitable part of learning an extreme sport that it is accepted, not looked down upon. Falling and its associated injuries are a rite of passage for any skater, skateboarder, skier etc. Whilst every skater I know is a perfectionist, they don't beat themselves up about making mistakes (they're bruised enough as it is), instead they learn to fall, sometimes even making it look stylish or turning the fall into another trick.
It would seem that, like skaters, teachers are usually perfectionists, however there seems to be so little allowance for 'falling' in education.
'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' - Samuel Beckett
There are plenty of similar maxims out there and many of us encourage that try, try again attitude in our students. But do we allow ourselves, and others, as teachers to fall as part of the learning process?  
To be clear, I'm not talking about teaching's catastrophic falls - the ones that spell the definite end for some - the equivalent of a sporting injury which totally takes the player out of the game forever. I mean those day-to-day small falls, a terrible lesson observation, extending even to a poor set of results. And yes, students' futures are at play here so we can't be glib about this and the reason why most of us are perfectionists is because we know the stakes are high.
But 'to err is human' and we all need to remember that - teaching staff and SLT members. 
If you are in leadership you must create an environment where, when you say 'Don't worry, it's supposed to be a supportive process' about lesson observations and the like, that it really is. Teachers will take your cue when responding to mistakes they've made - in feedback the mistake should be framed in such a way that teachers go away determined and excited to nail it next time. And the next time should come quickly. Usually when I miss a trick skating I'll get up and have a go again straight away - allow your teaching staff that opportunity to have another go. If a leader sees a list of errors rather than a list of development opportunities then that's what their team members will see too. And racking up a list of mistakes is hardly conducive to wellbeing and decent classroom practice. As a leader you can help people learn to fall by helping them to look at their challenges in a positive way.
But how can teachers learn to fall?
Have a positive and reflective response to a fall - be kind to yourself, see it as an opportunity to improve, and above all, find the good in the mistake; perhaps the good is that you at least tried it in the first place, or perhaps it's that you've learned how not to do it. Remember, Dale Carnegie wrote 'Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.' You could even go so far as to celebrate the mistake as another step in your journey of progress.
Have a practical response to a fall - once you have responded positively and reflected to out and seek advice on how you could change things next time. It might just be a colleague, it could be a middle leader - you could even ask Twitter. It of course helps if you begin to be solution focused when approaching others for help so you could begin to think beforehand about your own ideas for what do change next time. One of the most important aspects to this stage of having a practical response is that you get up and try again; that you don't write it off immediately as something you'll never be able to do.
Make the best of a bad situation - in the moment, at that actual point in a lesson, for example, where you feel yourself falling, you could begin to think how you can react quickly. Think about how you can rescue yourself. This will come more as a result of the first two steps; as a result of you learning to fall. It is this that the boy at the skatepark was commenting on - because of past experience of falling during a trick I have learnt to almost carry on regardless, eventually righting myself and rolling away from the fall. In my blog post 'Freestyle Teaching' I discussed more about what it's like to get into the flow state; it may help with thinking about how to 'freestyle' your way out of a fall.
Look after yourself after a fall - I've touched on this already in the first point, also this step may sound contradictory to the advice I gave about getting up and trying again. You must acknowledge that falling hurts. There will come a time when you have to decide not to punish yourself more, for the time being. Sometimes you might just need to crawl away and nurse your wounds. But always with that positive mindset already mentioned - a time to recuperate and reflect on what went wrong and what you could change for next time.
Perhaps the steps I've laid out aren't all that helpful to you, but what I do hope you take away is the idea that as teachers we can, and need to, learn to fall. And that it's OK to fall. And that actually it might even be beneficial to fall.
Falling is not failing. But not getting back up and trying again is. Learn to fall and eventually you will learn to fly.
 “There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask "What if I fall?"
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?” 
- Erin Hanson