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.

No more Miss Nice Gal? Is it OK to be scary?

  During August this year Sheryl Sandberg was on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, ‘Don’t hate her because she’s successful’. When I read that article online it led me to another that outlined seven traits of successful women leaders. I have a love-hate relationship with these kind of articles: Love because it is always interesting to read another take on women in leadership. Hate because more often than not these articles focus on what women in particular can bring to their work as leaders. Weirdly I don’t see as many articles on male leadership. Odd that. Two of the seven traits in this article intrigued me more than the others. Firstly, Assertiveness. The article chooses to frame this in the terms that a successful woman leader will be prepared to say no, will not be taken advantage of and will be prepared to argue her case. What struck about these was that each suggestion appeared to assume that the woman started from a disadvantaged place. 

The second trait that I thought was interesting was Aggressiveness. Again the article suggested that this was in terms of ‘constructive aggressiveness’ going on to use the word ‘feisty’. Now I’m a big fan of the word ‘feisty’ in the right context, but can’t help feeling that women in leadership is not that context. It has the smatterings of angry pup about it, that I think implies that any kind of female aggressiveness is the workplace equivalent of Scrappy Doo.  

More interesting was reading an article this week in Grazia magazine asking the question why women are afraid of being scary at work. It’s an interesting read focusing on the concept of the ‘dominance penalty’ & a Harvard study which suggests that if women are tough at work, displaying ‘leadership qualities like strength and decisiveness’ (Emma Barnett, 5 October), then they can expect to be disliked. I think this is equally true in an education setting, women in leadership are incredibly supportive of each other, but it tends to be about encouragement & overcoming obstacles, but what about taking a different tack? What about asking the question is it bad to be too tough? It’s definitely an uphill struggle if you bring together the supposed successful traits of women leaders, plus (dare I say it) a tendency of articles on women in leadership to focus on ideas such as How do we manage it all? Being brave enough to speak up and not being negative about ourselves. Isn’t it about time we acknowledge that, along with Barnett and architect Zaha Hadid on Radio4 this week, it is OK to be scary if scary means being tough enough to stand up for truth and fight for your values. Is #WomenEd ready to get scary and…even have a go at reclaiming the b word. One thing that did make me smile on the traits page was a quotation from Tina Fey – ‘Know what? B*****s get stuff done’. Too much?

Whose job is it to care about Staff Morale and what we can learn from chocolate

Teacher in a classroomIt’s interesting to see the difference an ‘e’ can make when added to ‘moral’, it can change pronunciation, change emphasis and create a whole dimension of leadership studies – the importance of the emotional well-being of staff. The last eleven months in particular have been filled with tales of teacher morale being at an all time low and sometimes a dip into Twitter of an evening confirms that. Tired teachers at the end of a frustrating day, questioning whether it is worth continuing with the profession that they once loved with a passion. Often the answer is to raise a shaking fist to whatever happens to be the latest political clanger. A recent favourite of mine was the Tory Peer, Lord Nash, oh so thoughtfully suggesting that lesson planning was a waste of time, so helpful! However, political changes, ridiculous initiatives will always be with us, does this mean that morale is something beyond our control? Far from it.

Within business much has been made of the correlation between how content employees feel with the productivity of the company. Perhaps it might be worth thinking more about the correlation between teacher morale and higher grades – spending the extra couple of hundred on that fancy coffee machine might then seem like a good investment! So who should be thinking about staff morale. Perhaps we are spending too much time shaking our fists at the wrong people? Perhaps Senior Leadership Teams should be making this a priority in their planning with opportunities for change available at every level. So how can SLTs make a difference to staff morale in tangible ways?

  1. Take time to find out what staff are actually doing. It’s important to really listen, observe and read what is happening in terms of subject content. How is the working experience of teachers changing year to year and is this making assessment harder? Are your demands for increasingly frequent assessments actually reasonable or are you making it harder for staff to actually get through their subject content.
  2. Think about everyone’s experiences when you are doing the timetable. I’ve been involved in timetabling for well over ten years and I’m amazed how many educational ideals go out of the window when timetables are put together. It’s so important to think about the quality of each member of staff’s day, as well as the experience of each student. Compromises are often made just to make things fit without thinking about the week in, week out realities that someone has to live with. It’s hard work to do it, but not impossible. Sadly as far as I know existing training in ‘how to do timetabling’ never seems to cover this.
  3. Environment matters. It makes such a difference to your working experience if you have space to work and that someone has thought about you when your workspace was planned. Too often teachers are surrounded by piles of debris that they never have the time or opportunity to tackle. We are busy shouting to the world at large that we are professionals, but staff sometimes have to mark or eat with piles of books or plates perched precariously on knees in crowded staff rooms.
  4. Genuinely celebrate your staff. As schools we are used to celebrating our pupils’ achievements, but do we shout as loudly about staff achievements? I’ve still got the personal letters I’ve received from leaders, who have taken the time to recognise my work, in a genuinely meaningful way.
  5. Give staff a voice. I’ve always thought it’s really important for staff to be able to meet without Senior Management present in order for them to discuss matters that can then be brought forward and presented in a neutral way. This is very different to the valuable work that unions do in schools, it’s about being able to deal with local matters swiftly so that staff are truly listened to and matters can be addressed. This relies upon the next point happening too.
  6. Listen to staff. I’ve written before about the need for leaders to be accessible. It’s so easy to be trapped in meetings in your office. I remember very well feeling guilty if an overstuffed calendar meant that I was not talking enough with staff. It’s not always possible to have that door wedged open physically, but metaphorically it always has to be open. Staff have got to feel that they have access, not just to deputies, but to Heads as well. I was lucky to work with outstanding PAs and their professionalism is essential to ensure that teachers never feel like they are being turned away.
  7. Teachers are people too. It’s sometimes easy to be so caught up in performance, grades and appraisals that we forget that every member of staff is a unique individual with their own lives beyond school. There are mixed opinions about this, but I think there are times when, if it helps, leaders should be prepared to be there to support staff through personal crises. Some feel it’s not professional to bring this into your work place, but we are only human and sometimes we need others to help us when we don’t feel strong. For me I’ve only thought of leaders as being more impressive when this happens.
  8. Invest in your team. Even when budget strings are being pulled tighter and tighter it is so important to invest in the development of teachers. Of course this refers to professional development, investing in good training. As a trainer you can instantly see those leadership teams that are genuinely wanting to invest in their staff – teachers, teaching support staff and admin teams. Investment goes beyond training, to time allocations for responsibility posts, and to creating a happy, productive working environment.

Ultimately it’s all about respecting other members of the staff community. So what has chocolate got to do with this? You could rightly think it’s about supplying the staff room with the obligatory chocolate boxes at the end of a hard term, but actually there is more to be learned here. I’m thinking in particular of the lessons that could be learned from the history of Cadbury’s. Many people are aware of the Quaker history of the Cadbury’s company, but this had huge implications for their care for the workforce.

IMG_0767.JPGThe Cadbury family were pioneers when it comes to staff morale and staff welfare. They brought in many new initiatives concerned with the welfare of their staff, for example, they were one of the first companies to close on Bank Holidays. In the nineteenth century they introduced incentive schemes for employees, invested in further education for their staff and created excellent facilities including,

“properly heated dressing rooms; kitchens for heating food; separate gardens for men and women as well as extensive sports fields and women’s and men’s swimming pools. Sports facilities included football, hockey and cricket pitches, tennis and squash racquet courts and a bowling green.” (The Story of Cadbury)

Perhaps most impressive was their emphasis on social welfare by purchasing 120 acres, creating Bournville, to build housing for their employees. They built housing in line with the Garden City Movement so that it was a clean living environment for staff, many of the cottages with their own apple trees. Sometimes teachers are lucky if they get an apple at work!  The Cadburys did care about their staff as people, about their lives whilst they worked in the factory and how they lived outside of work hours.

It was the Quaker belief system that lay behind the Cadbury family’s decisions to care for the staff so that everyone benefits from the happy workforce. They had a vision which they communicated to their staff and was evident from the actions they carried out to look after their staff. The same goes for mission statements of schools, do they work for the best of every member of the school community?

You might have strategies in place to raise standards, to improve teaching and learning, and to maximise your pastoral care, but how central is your planning for improving staff morale? Is it even part of your strategic plan? And if you don’t think it’s your job, whose is it?

Teacher with Apple

 

see also https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story