The importance of connections for school leaders

Relationships among teaching and non-teaching staff in schools can be integral to your success as a teacher or leader within a school. Trust among colleagues, collegial relationships, and widespread buy-in and support.

A well-shared vision for what you would like to achieve can have a real positive impact on your career, but how can you harness this?

I have just moved job; a nice sideways move from a lead pastoral role to a Head of Curriculum role, nothing too dramatic, but I had not counted on one major obstacle: my entire support network had broken down.

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All those years cultivating relationships around the school, from the administrative assistant who handles the photocopying to the exams officer, the data manager and the facilities lead, all really important people who have helped me be the success that I am to this point.

School leaders need a network, setting up and maintaining a system of support to help them meet the many challenges of the job. For some school leaders, it is counter-intuitive to think that they might need to ask for help. But in order to thrive, it is vital that school leaders reach out for support, but how do you achieve this?

Connect and identify

Firstly, find a connection and identify who you can trust to discuss the various challenges whilst providing advice. These relationships are important for any school leader. Connecting with colleagues in your school offers you an opportunity to discuss your situations and scenarios with someone who understands your context. Having that go-to person enables you to find the movers and shakers within the organisation.

Elliott et al. (1999) for instance found in their study that there were certain contextual factors that led to teachers maximising their effectiveness in schools, including established well-developed communication networks and strong administrative support for curriculum initiatives.

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Cultivate culture by reaching out

These relationships and support mechanisms do not occur naturally as they need to be cultivated. It was noted in particular that when teachers felt confident, valued and trusted they were more likely to engage. In my context, I have a large faculty to manage, including an array of established teachers, under-performing staff, NQT’s and long term supply.

Time-manage

I manage many time-consuming activities such as lots of questions, ego massaging and general day to day support, but insist on developing a friendly and supportive relationship with key people from the beginning. This is either by inviting them to lunch, introducing them to others in the school, offering to help locate supplies, and so on. These go a long way toward reducing patterns of isolation and building teacher-teacher trust.

Support your networks

SLT can support relationship-building between new and returning faculty by creating opportunities throughout the school year for teachers to meet and get to know one another. Create—and support—meaningful opportunities for teachers to work collaboratively.

Too often, schools are structured in ways that prevent teachers from working together closely. Authentic relationships, however, “are fostered by personal conversations, frequent dialogue, shared work and shared responsibilities.

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Make relationship-building a priority

As a faculty, select a small but diverse group of teachers to do some initial legwork: locating an assessment tool, measuring teacher-teacher trust in the school, talking to faculty about perceived strengths and areas of concern, and investigating relevant professional development strategies.

Peer coaching, mentoring, team teaching, professional learning communities, and networking are all models that can be used to strengthen teacher relationships by bringing individuals together around issues of mutual interest and/or concern.

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About our Community Expert

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Richard Endacott

Career Development Lead

Richard is a history Teacher by Training and for the last few years been head of sixth form. His specialism is leadership and career development in the classroom.

10 ways to look after your wellbeing as a teacher

Having spent up to two days a week in schools for the last 18 months I have seen how much pressure teachers are under daily and I can only begin to imagine how much it could affect your personal wellbeing.

You are shaping the lives of thousands of children every single day and believe me I truly think that is the most important job in the world. I cannot stress enough how important it is to not feel selfish to say that you need time for yourself or create habits that are just for you.

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I have put together 10 tips that I really think will work specifically for you, even if you try one, it is all about starting somewhere!

1. Acknowledge your importance

Know that you are the most important person in that classroom. When you are feeling motivated and energised the children will feel it and you deserve to feel like that.

2. Accept that we feel different every single day

I teach Yoga 6 days a week (on average) and I keep an energy diary to work out how I am feeling. Even a scale of 1-5, that simple, so that you can start to understand how things in your life are affecting you daily and perhaps where you may need to change some patterns in your life.

3. Breathwork is your new bestie

Seriously. Even close your eyes in the classroom while the students are on a break and take 10 deep breathes. Try to make the exhale longer than the inhale so that it works with your parasympathetic nervous system and calm you down.

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4. Create your own excitement

Create something first thing in the morning that you cannot wait to do! Something that inspires you to get up in the morning… maybe it is reading an amazing book for 5 minutes, meditating, doing a HIIT workout, something that you can do for 5 minutes that YOU deserve.

5. Know that you’re not alone

Know that being overwhelmed, not getting enough sleep and feeling anxious are all normal feelings that we all experience. After speaking to so many teachers I know that this is actually very common and I want you to know that you are doing GREAT. When I feel like this, I write things down no matter what time of day, and allow my emotions out onto the page and then look at it a couple of hours later for perspective.

6. Time block

This is my secret love. I am self-employed and my days can literally run away with me where I am “busy” but have accomplished nothing. I even block out time to have breakfast, when to shower etc. I know your day is laid out but once the school day is over, it is YOUR time and I think trying this out and blocking out time for self-care will truly make a difference.

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7. Move your body in some way every day

I do Yoga every day and cannot even begin to talk about the benefits and how much it will change your life (really) but I also get it’s not for everyone. Find something that works for you and that you enjoy, and just do it.

8. Do you

Set yourself a monthly goal that is nothing to do with work. Maybe it is to do a hike you have always wanted to? Or read a book a month that is pure fiction? Something just for you!

9. Talk to people

If you are feeling overwhelmed please do not hide away, share it with people in work, friends, us, we are here for you every step of the way.

10. Sleep

I cannot stress how important this is, you have to make sure you are resting enough, it is the key to recovery and mental wellbeing.

Breathe, drop those shoulders and remember you are doing just great!

 

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About our Community Expert

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Kirsty Raynor

#TeachFit programme lead

Kirsty is a yoga teacher on a journey of empowerment, building confidence and pushing the boundaries of what traditional yoga is and can be.

She leads the TeachFit Yoga workshops in our partner schools.

5 ways to instill a ‘can do’ attitude in your students

Should we stick to the basics and turn ‘I can’t do it’ into ‘I can do it’? In this blog we look at the steps to help your students develop a ‘can do’ attitude.

Step 1.
A ‘can do’ attitude is a result of a positive mindset, so start by reminding your students they ‘can do’ anything they set their mind to.

Step 2.
Ban the word ‘can’t’ from your classroom. Remove all other motivational quotes from the walls and inform pupils the word ‘can’t’ is banned from the classroom. Ask your pupils to monitor and ‘police’ the use of the word and turn this ban into a classroom challenge.

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About our Community Expert

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Jo Lane
Head of Careers at The Windsor Boys’ School

Over 8 years of experience in educational settings including FE colleges and secondary schools. Prior to entering education she worked at the Financial Times in a sales and marketing role before deciding to embark on a career change.

Teaching business whilst completing her part-time PGCE at Greenwich University, she transferred her business skills into the classroom and these skills resulted in her providing students with a range of vocational learning experiences linked to the curriculum, including setting up businesses and creating a youth music festival for local performers.

Building on her experience of working in The City, she has established excellent links with local and national employers who provide valuable career opportunities for her pupils, including work experience, employability sessions and apprenticeships. She is motivated to provide pupils or all abilities with the opportunity to be successful in school and helping them secure the right path for their future career.

Your complete guide to assembly ideas

Developing and sustaining new, interesting and exciting ideas for assemblies and ensuring that they are engaging, relevant and actually teach something is, in itself a challenge, especially given such high stacks involved!

Planning the assembly content and structure for their delivery is a crucial and essential part of the process and should be approached in the same way that you would approach the planning of a lesson or a staff meeting. It is all about planning!

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About our Community Expert

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Jane Wood-Chambers
Editorial Advisory Board Lead

Over 27 years of educational experiences in a number of settings. Developed a clear vision and ethos for inclusion which puts the child at the centre and a clear understanding of how to support, engage and nurture the individual.

Ability to train all staff through effective and reflective continual professional development in behavioural management techniques that begin, establish and maintain change in all.

Effective Classroom Language: Do’s and Don’ts

Since then, I have learnt that the language teachers use in the classroom can have a positive or harmful effect on pupils, so their words need to be chosen carefully.

We’ve all had lessons where we’ve had to repeatedly ask pupils to be quiet, but instead of pulling your hair out in frustration, try using these classroom management “dos’” and “don’ts” – paying extra attention to the language you use when managing pupil behaviour.

Learning simply cannot happen when pupils misbehave, so it is crucial that teachers handle disruptions in a consistent and non-confrontational manner.

Praise good behaviour

Rather than concentrating on the pupils that misbehave, focus your attention on the pupils that are working well. A simple, “well done to those of you on the extension task” or “good work front row” can be very effective. Even mischievous pupils want to please the teacher, so give them the opportunity to change their behaviour before you consider sanctioning them.

Offer the carrot, not the stick

Rather than reminding pupils of the sanctions for bad behaviour, remind them of the rewards they can receive for exhibiting good behaviour. You can even implement a rewards system in the form of certificates, prizes and privileges.

Words of praise like “well done” or “excellent work” can be very encouraging when you mean them, so give credit where credit’s due. Awarding a prize for ‘Pupil of the month’ can also make them very competitive and encourage them to stay on task!

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Alternatively, click here to download the Opogo app for android.

 

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About our Community Expert

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Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject – both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Young people on a knife edge

My blog this week wasn’t going to be around knives and all week I have sat deliberating whether to continue the debate around the tragic events that we’ve all seen and read in the media over the last 10 days.

Whether it’s the three young men within 2 miles in Birmingham or the two teenagers from Manchester and East London once again the debate around who’s to blame and who has the solution continues to rage but one thing for sure is we cannot continue to address this issue the same way.

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About our Community Expert

Raymond Douglas
Community Expert

Raymond Douglas is one of the UK’s leading thinkers and “doers” around working with at-risk pupils and young people. A prolific trainer and curriculum developer he has created numerous intervention programs tackling youth conflict & violence aiming to reduce the number of those at risk of life-threatening behaviour involving guns, gangs, knife crime & extremism.

Ray has been an approved trainer for governmental departments and currently delivers within schools colleges, universities and prisons. Ray has spoken at TEDx and has worked nationally and internationally training & advising schools and local authorities around reducing systemic youth violence.

Today his Minus Violence program reaches over 10,000 young people & pupils per year and 2019 see the release of his first book Gangs Kitchen.

Building relationships for an effective leadership team

I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot, together we can do great things – Mother Theresa

When I calculate the hours I have spent at work with my senior team, I’m staggered at the numbers! On average we spent 2340 hours together per year. Over the course of my headship, that’s 14,040 hours with a group of individuals that helped me change the lives of young people in our part of the world.

Can I say I loved every minute of it? Not without fibbing.

Can I say that I knew and loved my team? Absolutely.

Knowing your team is critical to the success you will experience together. With young peoples lives in your hands; it is even more crucial that as a leader, you get to know your team on a deeper level to ensure that you build a structure that promotes a thriving team culture.

leaders bulbs

As a leader, you have to complete a myriad of tasks but getting to know your team is one where you will not regret the time investment.

Why should we know our team? Surely everyone is here to do a job, we all get paid, everyone is professional and knows what needs to be accomplished. That may or may not be true, but you still need to know your team.

Let me suggest these reasons why:

1. Because you are in a relationship with them, and all relationships need nurturing

If you don’t know them and they don’t know you, what is the likelihood of your relationship thriving? If the relationship does not thrive, what is the likelihood that they will genuinely follow you as a leader?

2. You need to know they want the same thing as you for the school

Let’s assume they do, then you all need to have the same interpretation of the journey that is necessary to achieve the vision and objectives for that term.

3. You need to know their values

What is important to them? What do they think is trivial? What motivates them as a person? (not as a leader, but as a man or woman).

By knowing this, you are more likely to understand their point of view (note I did not say agree with it). However, if one team member is motivated by immediate praise, why would you wait until the end of the term to say well done?

4. Assess strengths vs. weaknesses

You would be wise to deploy them to their areas of strength whilst they work on their areas of weakness. You cannot do this if you don’t know them as people. They might be the Head of the curriculum, or be in charge of Key Stage One. They might be the person who analyses the data, but their title does not tell you much about their qualities and talents. You need to get to know them to find that out!

Juliet Erickson (2005) gave helpful team traits to steer leaders as they get to know their teams.

Using this framework, take some time to think about your team and plan ways to utilise their strengths in fulling the vision of your school community.

coggs leaders

Scenario #1.

First, we have Marcus or Maya. You know them, they are a people’s person. Great at making relationships and are always asking how decisions or procedures will affect the staff or pupils. They are wonderful at collaborating and are always saying yes!

They try to involve others and will build on all the ideas from everyone in the team. They are on your side; you can see them in the meeting if you close your eyes. You like them.

Building rapport with these guys?

  • If you are late you have good people reason.
  • Show that you are aware of how others will be affected by what you’re proposing.
  • Talk about your personal experience where relevant.

Scenario #2.

Then we have Denise or Dan. They are Mr or Ms Focused. They get to the point because they can think quickly and will ask questions about benefits and outcomes.

They can be assertive and confident (sometimes a little too assertive you think), but they are invaluable as their actions tend to get others focused and things get done. You like them.

Getting the best of them?

  • Be punctual and keep the meeting short. Be prepared for a variety of possible eventualities and questions. Start with a point or outcome you want.
  • Use evidence or backup that is very specific and factual.
  • Make your message well-structured.

Scenario #3.
In the corner we have Analytical Alice or Abdi; ‘give me details’ they say. They need to understand the thought and rationale behind everything. How detail and data are presented is important to them and they can get frustrated if others show a lack of clarity or depth into the detail.

You do like them, but sometimes they seem like they are holding back the pace as they ponder and force others to ponder the data or detail (did I mention they like detail?).

Getting the best out of them…hmmm, tricky:

  • Be pointed and technical.
  • Don’t rush the pace, take your time.
  • Don’t use words such as intuitive, think, believe, feel.
  • Do use words such as rational, know, prove, demonstrate and analyse.

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Scenario #4.

Now we notice Alan or Asmara. They are all about the process. Let’s get this done, get it done right, on time, on budget. They want you to decide a course of action, set up the timeline and don’t mess with it! If things go off track, they can seem overly upset about that.

They spend their time ensuring that people are on track and doing what is expected of them. Sometimes they are called complete- finishers. You depend on them, you like them.

To get the best out them…

  • Be able to answer questions in a direct, brief and decisive way.
  • Make your questions incisive, so that you know what you’re talking about. Don’t bother too much with small talk.
  • If you write an email, say what you want in the first brief paragraph, including any next steps you may have discussed.

Scenario #5.

Now we have Joanne or Jermaine. They are so creative, innovative and imaginative that they sometimes seem quirky! They are great at problem-solving, seeing how things could be and going off at a tangent to explore new ways of working.

They make meetings fun and provoke others to think differently. You like them a lot.

To get their strengths to the fore…

  • Wait to begin the business side of things until you see they are ready.
  • Be warm friendly and talkative.
  • Don’t rush go at a relaxed pace, avoid a sense of urgency.

Bring in the big picture early in the meeting, then use the rest of the meeting to bring the picture to life.

Scenario #6.

What about Rita or Richard? They are experts in their field. They are valuable members of the team, but their contribution tends to be in one specific area and that’s where they focus their questions too.

They might come across as selfish, as they only want to talk about that one area, or they may seem dismissive if the conversation does not include that area. You do like them, but they can be hard work!

Getting the best out of them?

  • You get what you are given and like it!
  • Just remind them from time to time to slow down so that everyone else can keep up!

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Successful schools have at their heart, thriving relationships. We can see the importance of investing time in understanding your team members and using that knowledge to help them perform at their best.

Two key components of any relationship are:

1. TRUST
2. COMMUNICATION

This is no different for relationships in the workplace.

So, whatever you do to get to know your team better, it needs to be centred around building trust and developing clear genuine channels of communication.

Let me put a caveat here…when you choose to trust someone you open a door of vulnerability for yourself. This does not mean you should not open the door, but you do need to be wise.
For example, don’t lay out every single mistake you have ever made in your professional life in the first meeting, because you want to be transparent and build trust!

Second caveat… trusting someone does not mean, not holding them to account, not monitoring their performance or having high expectations!

In this article, we started by looking at the relationships. Good leaders always start with people. Next time we look deeper into the structures and ways of working of an effective school leadership team.

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About our Community Expert

DianaOsagi_BlueCircle-1Diana Osagie
Community Expert | CEO Courageous Leadership Consultancy

After 16 years in senior leadership including six as a secondary headteacher, Diana is now one of the UK’s most recognised education leadership coaches.

She specialises in helping leaders and their teams develop their inner layer of courage; essential for true leadership and resilience.

The Blame Games and Student Behaviour

“We can curse the darkness or shine a light”

A Headteacher once said to me she knew when a new video game had been released because there was a spike in absences and lateness the day after!

Interesting thought really especially as both teachers and parents alike currently glaze over when they hear the word fortnight; to the extent that one primary school recently banned any mention of it in the classroom.

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Alternatively, click here to download the Opogo app for android.

12 Ways to Support Introverts in the Classroom

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Some may perceive you like one or the other. However, in my opinion, there’s an extrovert and an introvert in all of us.

It is what we do with these aspects of ourselves in different contexts that will help us in situations that need us to adapt.

Similarly, for children, some pupils are extroverts that naturally contribute in class and voice their opinions and appear confident and self-assured. As teachers though, we still need to look and observe more closely as sometimes being an extrovert can mask a whole host of issues.

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Introverted pupils can also be a challenge in class. In the Oxford Dictionary, an introvert is described as a “shy and reticent person”. What we need to know as teachers are that just because they have “quieter qualities” within their personality trait, they are not less able. It takes skilful teaching and learning and “getting to know the child, carefully, over time” that will help them make progress.

Here are 12 ways to encourage introverts in your class!

1. Get to know the child

Observe them keenly and look at how they behave and interact with their peers. Build up a picture from others such as teaching assistants, midday supervisors, parents and carers and former teachers. It will inform you on ways to move forward with the child.

2. Observe body language

Although some may seem shy and hesitant, body language and facial expressions still give us huge clues on what people think and their likes and dislikes.

3. Give them “Voice Time” and don’t interrupt them

Give pupils advance warning of what you want them to do and inform them of any change so that they have time to reflect. Be patient but persist in getting a contribution, so they also have the chance to share their ideas and opinions. Avoid interrupting then as that can disrupt their thought trains.

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The Soft Skills of Leadership

You have worked hard and promotion has come your way. The CPD courses, hours spent reading and the constant seeking of ‘whole school opportunities’ have paid off.

Finally appointed to the leadership position that has eluded you for some time, you will make this work. The vision is in your heart, you picture yourself sharing, collaborating with like-minded people, you will make a difference. It’s your time.

This is a valid picture of the inception of leadership. Full of hope and so it should be, school leadership is the cradle of hope for thousands of young people in our schools across the nation. As a leader, you will be adept in processes that underpin school improvement and strategies that secure effective teaching.

You know how to write an action plan, hold staff to account and engage that elusive parent who never comes to the parents evening unless you practically pay them!

You have successfully completed leadership courses, so let me share with you the soft skills of leadership that are rarely part of any course syllabus, but will influence the success of your leadership journey far more than you realise. The leader who is appointed and thrives in their position is the one who grasps these concepts early.

Robles identifies 10 soft skills needed in leadership and in the workplace generally:

  • Communication
  • Professionalism
  • Courtesy
  • Work ethic
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Positive attitude

Every school leader would recognise these playing a role in their day, but we underestimate the weight these soft skills have in relation to how our leadership is received by others.

The underestimation may stem from the term ‘soft skills’ itself. Think about the word soft. It’s the obvious contrast to hard—as in the phrases; hard data, hard evidence, and hard thinking. If hard implies objective, clearly defined and reliable: soft must imply subjective, woolly, and unreliable—soft-hearted rather than hard-headed. Soft outcomes are sentimental or ‘warm and fuzzy’. It undermines a claim for serious attention.

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Alternatively, click here to download the Opogo app for android.