What is your mission statement?

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I’ve sat in different halls when the newly revised and rewritten version of the school’s mission statement has been revealed. I’ve been on both sides – part of the SLT who is sharing it or a member of staff, being shown version number 473. I’ve heard the cynical sniggers from those who cast it aside immediately as a meaningless document at best or at worst an agenda-laden manifesto of the controlling management team imposing their ideas on the true educators. I’ve read different kinds of mission statements – the extensive, leaving nothing unsaid, detailed essay and the pithy ‘can we say it in ten words’, yes as long as it’s a meaningless educational soundbite. It’s not an easy job trying to write one, but it is easy to be critical of others’ attempts. What has struck me more and more is that it’s often a question that you only have to really tackle when you start showing an interest in promotion, but it’s as important a job from the moment you begin your career until your retirement year (and beyond).

What is a mission statement anyway? Ultimately it a way of communicating your purpose to others. Why are you doing what you are doing? I don’t think anyone properly asked me that until I’d been teaching for about ten years, already well into a Head of Department role. I wanted to really think about my answer and not through it away on something too logistical. To help you come up with your mission statement I’m going to slightly adapt a suggested approach from business via Forbes magazine and ask you three questions to come up with your own statement of intent. As an extra challenge, can you sum up your answer to each question in one sentence?

  • What do you do? The obvious answer is to teach, but what do you actually do so that learning takes place? Have you developed a particular style in the classroom or adopted an approach to learning that influences your planning? Have you got a USP? If you are going for a leadership role or currently in one then what do you enjoy about the responsibility of leadership?
  • How do you do it? What do you bring to your role? Whenever I was responsible for schemes of work I always wanted them to be flexible enough for individual teachers to shape the material with their own personalities. Are you passionate about your subject? What motivates you? Why would it be different to work with you?
  • Why do you do it? For me this is the foundation of your mission statement, in that everything else should be built upon these ideas. What are your values? Some of you will know from my tweets and blogs that I am a big fan of Michael Fullan and his focus on moral purpose. I was introduced to him at the very beginning of my study of educational leadership, but I think it is something that should be considered right at the start. What are the principles that underpin your decisions and choices? Are there deal breakers for you that might cause you to look for another post if a request appears to challenge your values? What does it mean for you to be an authentic teacher and/or leader? Would colleagues be able to say what your values were, do you communicate them to others?

It is not surprising that an understanding of mindfulness and resilience is becoming more significant in teacher development. Rather than be seen as fanciful additions these ideas, along with our core values, construct a teacher who’s well being is integral to their success. As Fullan suggests (referencing Palmer’s Courage to Teach) in chapter 2 of his very readable book, Leading in a Culture of Change,

‘…the best teachers integrate the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of teaching to create powerful learning communities’

At this challenging time, when teachers are even being politically scolded for not being positive about their profession, it is even more important to know what your mission statement is. For many of us, taking time to ask yourself these questions will prove to be the chart that will help get you through the roughest seas and cope with the highest waves. In fact, your mission statement should be the most positive statement of intent and will also be celebration of everything you have already achieved.

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Time to REboot RE? #REConsult – Musings in response to Daniel’s Friday questions

IMG_0772.JPGTwitter has been buzzing ever since the consultation documents came out on the proposals for GCSE and A Level RE. Daniel Hugill (@DanielHugill) posted some excellent questions which reflected some of the Twitter debate. I decided to write My thoughts on these questions – I have been thinking some similar thoughts myself!

1. Seems to be some reluctance to teach about religion and belief. Are we embarrassed by it?

Embarrassment of belief? I think there is some truth in this. It’s not new of course, but I think with the increased focus on P&E there have been ways that RE has been able to be justified as being relevant. I find this odd because religion is everywhere! I was often asked about changing the name of the subject over the years but I always said that the majority of the world’s population are religious, how can it be irrelevant? With world events being as they are there are numerous ways to make connections, same goes for popular culture. There is even something of a backlash going on against comedians who get cheap laughs ridiculing religion. But this does lead to the next question…

2. Some students we teach are not religious. This means they aren’t interested in studying religions and beliefs. Is this true?

The religious beliefs of the students is not of immediate relevance. Think of parallels, do you have to be a Nazi to study the Second World War in History, or an animal to study Biology, or to travel to study Geography? Ridiculous obviously. However, even when we look to Art there has been a big push to include students who don’t see themselves as artistic. I would suggest you just need to be interested in two things – ideas and people. Some of the best RE students are the most passionate atheists.

3. That a focused study of religion involves lower level skills that belong in KS3 and not at GCSE or A-level. Is that right?

Agreed this seems to be a thought. It seems to be quite disrespectful of Theology. Perhaps it depends upon the kind of degree the teacher has and their own experiences of the subject? I’ve taught about 6 or 7 different A Level papers including a textual study of John and Patristic Theology! They are demanding, but it’s not impossible to make them attractive to students. Do English teachers have to justify studying texts at A Level?

4. That the popularity of courses will fall if we approach religion using a wider range of approaches. Do you agree?

The popularity of subjects is all down to how you market them and how you teach them – make both interesting and exciting then it works. If you build it they will come.

5. That a focused study of religion and belief cannot be made interesting and engaging by skilled RE teachers. Do you agree?

Doesn’t say much for teachers if they feel they can’t do this, unless they don’t believe it themselves? Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching Philosophy, I specialised in it at university, but I loved so much about my Theology degree and am thrilled when students have gone on to study Theology themselves. If some of these changes happen I can tell you I will be right there happily leading training days on the richness of RE that covers not one university degree but at least two entirely distinct disciplines. It might involve some hard work, but I think this subject is worth that. Why should RE be easy?

My view on REconsult – Celebrate the opportunity to give RE a REboot

 

The way you make me feel: why teachers’ emotions matter

20140401-150510.jpgIt would be an understatement to say that, on the whole, the morale of teachers is not good. Never in my experience of teaching have I been so aware of so many colleagues considering leaving the profession. This can be for a range of reasons, but many seem connected to the combination of being overworked due to a level of bureaucracy that seems unconnected to pupil progress and also a general sense of being undervalued. I have read comments from numerous teachers who feel that their managers contribute to their despondent feelings. This combined with the public perception that teachers cause problems for parents by striking, or are seen as whinging despite their ‘long holidays’, means that emotion is interwoven into the professional experience of being a teacher these days.

Most teachers, including myself, can recall times when colleagues and managers made us feel terrible. This could be directly, through managers being unfairly critical or disrespectful.   Or  indirectly; the lack of appropriate praise after a big venture, the lack of recognition of the effort that is being put in. Some have argued that teachers need to ‘grow up’ and not be so sensitive about such things, but does it really matter how you feel when you are working as a teacher.  I would argue that it makes all the difference.

There have been some amazing studies over the past few years looking at the importance of emotion as an aspect of educational leadership. Not least the developments of recognising Emotional Intelligence, pioneered by Daniel Goleman. This recognises that some have a better awareness than others of the emotions of other people. It also then goes on to show why you can gain a greater understanding of people through picking up on the emotions of others. The irony is that this work is almost taken for granted as part of teaching when it comes to recognising warning signs with pupils, but can often be sidelined with colleagues. 20140401-150627.jpgMegan Crawford (@DrMeganCrawford) has written a seminal work, ‘Getting to the Heart of Leadership: Emotion & Educational Leadership’ (2009), challenging leaders to reflect on their values and looking at the dynamics of the range of different relationships within school. I suspect her forthcoming book will also pick up this theme as well. Even in the last week my trusty ‘Educational Management Administration and Leadership’ journal from Sage (@Sage_EdResearch), the amazing publication, part of the membership of BELMAS (@Belmasoffice), covers a variety of aspects looking at Educational Leadership and emotion.  All of these references and more suggest there is no reason why leaders should not be reflecting on the emotional dimension of their leadership and in particular the way they make others feel. As an aside here, I would argue strongly against those who suggest that educational research must only be about pupil progress for it to be of any worth or relevance. Here is a case in point where the excellent research being done can have a direct influence on teachers’ working experiences, and therefore indirectly can influence the experience in the classroom.

Despite this work, there are still leaders who feel that they do not need to consider the feelings of their staff, or colleagues who feel it is acceptable to treat others badly in the professional context. Ask most teachers and they will have a ‘horror story’, or two, about something someone has said or done to them, perhaps to undermine them, to belittle, to be unsupportive, to fail to acknowledge their work, or worse still, take credit for others’ work.  We spend countless time in pastoral training sessions recognising the importance of developing listening skills when dealing with pupils and yet very little time and money is invested in staff to develop mentoring skills. Really listening to someone is a skill and one that matters a great deal in education, because we are dealing with people. People are complex, unpredictable, and multi-dimensional.

So what can we do to respond to the problem of low morale. Leader or not, we should be supportive of one another. Even on Twitter with educationalists it is depressing and frustrating when debates turn into point scoring, or worse still, sniping or deriding. Twitter is an opportunity to be supportive of others who are miles away. In schools so many teachers offer practical support through peer observations, through collaboration, sharing of work load, giving time and recognition when others don’t. Emotion doesn’t mean a lack of professionalism, instead it should be embraced as part of an on-going dialogue between teachers. Emotion can make things happen, can prompt a creative force and can reveal truths. Working in a school can be an emotional experience and events can occur that provoke emotional responses, so it’s good to embrace that there will be times when we need to talk. Being able to express our emotions and recognise our own emotional triggers also helps us to recognise that in others. The butterflies at the start of a term is a good thing, caring about the results your pupils get is a sign that it all still matters. Of course, the classroom itself is not necessarily the place to experience a full emotional crisis, but I know that I have benefitted hugely from the support of colleagues when having to deal with something particularly challenging.

Rather than seeing emotion and professionalism as mutually exclusive, we should embrace that our humanity means that emotion has a place in our work.  So even when morale is low we can comfort ourselves with a few of important points. Firstly, that even feeling low is an emotion, that shows we are still passionate, feeling creatures and that can only benefit our work with pupils and alongside colleagues. Secondly, being emotional creatures can help us deal with the nature of our work in education, which is with nurturing and developing the next generation. People are wonderfully complicated and the emotional dimension is an integral part of that. Finally, our terms are intense working experiences and yes we do have holidays and that means the holidays are for living fully to ensure we are well balanced human beings. So I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday ready for the summer term ahead.

 

Reflections on Nurture 1314

20140104-154250.jpgI’ve really enjoyed reading colleagues’ reflections on their past year. I have genuinely been in awe at the achievements of my Twitter contemporaries and have put off reflecting on my own path for fear of it being somewhat lacking. The past year has been a year of two halves, the pivotal moment being moving house during the horrible sticky heat of July.

The first half of my year was as a Deputy Head. Being a deputy is a fantastic job. You know how much Stephen Drew looked like he was having fun as Deputy in Educating Essex, well it’s true. One of the reasons why it is a great job is that you work with so many different people, not just amazing students, inspiring teachers, as you might expect, but also astonishing admin teams, incredible caterers, maintenance staff, medical staff, invaluable support staff and creative gardeners. Every day is different, new problems to solve, ideas to debate, plans to implement. There have been quite a few blogs recently that have really been critical of senior leadership teams. This seems unfair on a number of levels. Firstly, it is so easy for teachers to blame the SLT as some kind of non-human amorphous lump. I’ve even seen tweets along the lines of ‘please let us get on with it’ by poor beleaguered teachers, which makes me feel sad. I have no doubt there are bad leaders, ineffective teams and many, many examples of poor communication in schools where staff are not consulted, involved, listened to or recognised. However, there are some amazing, inspirational examples of leadership out there – you only have to read some great blogs to see that.

The second reason I find the ‘us and them’ approach sad is because it seems to be contradictory to the values and morals we are all trying to achieve in our work. Even on twitter, regulars will know of examples of snide comments, gossipy side conversations when hashtag chats are in full swing, it is so boring. We would challenge that in the classroom, but if we don’t challenge it in the staff rooms then we are surely guilty of hypocrisy. Finally, I think that there is a danger that sniping at senior leaders might put teachers off going for promotion – do they really want to take that on?

Before you think I’ve veered too far away from the path of reflection let me say that what was particularly important in that first half of the year was circumstances that convinced me of the importance of research in developing educational theory. Reading educational research on leadership and management in schools inspired me to be constantly reviewing and auditing what it means to be a leader. If, as a teacher, you inspire one child to think for themselves then you’re doing your job well. If, as a leader, you inspire one teacher that they should aim for leadership then you’re doing your job well.

To reflect on my time as a leader in the first half of the year, I hope I did my job well. I really enjoyed working with staff, training on a range of different topics, with the aim of encouraging leadership in others.

This leads me to the second half of the year. I decided to start this blog to accompany the exchanges I was already enjoying so much on Twitter. I continued to write training material on leadership, mentoring, differentiation and have been able to deliver these to different audiences, gaining so much from interacting with teachers in the process. I have also been able to return to writing about RE matters as well, a subject so close to my heart. I have been privileged to be able to carry on my work nurturing trainee teachers, embarking on PGCEs, either at the start of their careers or early on as a way of securing foundational skills. This at a time when the training of teachers is being questioned and PGCE courses closing. Crazy times.  With education constantly changing, technology advancing faster than we can keep up with it, new educational theory challenging us, this is a time for more teacher training, not less.  We shouldn’t think we know it all, there is so much more to know!

For my whole career to date I have been proud to see being a teacher as a profession. I liked that I ticked the professional box in questionnaires about occupations. What surprised me early on and continues to surprise me is the way that many outside of education seem to think anybody can be a good teacher. Even after the actual demonstration that being a good teacher is not about what degree class you have with Jamie Oliver’s academy, we still hear that content knowledge is the same as delivering knowledge. It seems bizarre to me to not see delivering knowledge, enabling learning in others, is a craft, a skill that can constantly be developed. This inspired me to pursue training others. Conversations with others also inspired me to continue to pursue my area of research interest, that different personalities have qualities that lend themselves to certain leadership roles. Women in education can sometimes be forced into certain gender stereotypes which makes them less likely to consider certain roles. Even this week we have been hearing about women in education sometimes being fearful of joining in fully with Twitter debates.

It wasn’t an easy year. It was a year of challenges but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing does it?

Looking ahead. I wonder.

Continue to read and write, but more so. Continue to work with teachers, trainee teachers and mentors, but more so.

Research leadership in education.

Try to paint more.

Stay true to my guiding values and vision.

Be happy.

Making your mark

image Well this is my first post so I thought that I would write about making your mark.  This is something that we teachers are in a privileged position to do each year, because we, like the pupils, get a fresh start every new academic year.  I know that I share a keen interest with many teachers in brand new stationery and it means that this is the perfect time of year as shops are busting all over with ‘Back to School’ signs.  Of course shopping centres are full of parents equipping their children with correct Teflon uniform and graffiti resistant pencil cases and the sense of relief of handing their little wonders back to the teachers is tangible.  The newness of a pristine unopened notebook almost makes it worth the return to school in its own right.  I wonder whether you, like me think really carefully about what is going to be on the first few pages.  We all want to start as we mean to go on and if, heaven forbid we make a mistake then we are compelled to rip out (spiral bound) or pull out matching back pages (stapled) in order to have a better go at it.  Just like the students we might remember to write the date on that first day, we might even underline a title.  The first page has so much hope on it it hard to match it to any other moment.

The great thing for staff and pupils alike is that the new term is just like that first page.  It is currently pristine, ready for everyone to make their mark on it.  I have always really emphasised with teachers how important it is to grant pupils the clean slate that comes with every September.  Try to rid yourself of every previously held prejudice, because we all change after a summer holiday.  Even worse, do not take on other people’s prejudices, let the students make their own mark.  I’ve never been a believer in New Year’s resolutions so this is the next best thing, the pristine first page of the new notebook.

Thinking about new schools, or new teachers, or new NQTs.  Well you might think you’re situation is more daunting, but it is even more free.  Your notebook is so pristine that you can create any impression you want.  You can carve out he right way forward for you.    It’s the notebook equivalent of getting to use a fancy gel pen…even better.  Summer holidays are ace.  I would hate to lose them.  They are long enough for adventures, long enough for bad memories to disappear into a hazy hot afternoon.  Everyone has the chance to make their mark with a new term.  The point of blogging for me? To make my mark.  To take time to think, reflect and hopefully encourage others to take a moment to share that.  We shall see.  At this point, it’s all good.

“Birds flying high…you know how I feel…sun in the sky…you know how I feel…reeds drifting on by you know how I feel…it’s a new dawn It’s a new day…it’s a new life for me & I’m feeling good” Nina Simone