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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Webinar: Courageous Leadership with Diana Osagie

Courageous Leadership: The 7 Key Steps with Diana Osagie | Tuesday 26 February 2019 | Online

Event Description:

The transition into and maintenance of effective leadership takes courage. You can be in leadership for many years and only have just started your courageous chapter. Some leaders never take the time to develop this aspect of leading their community or team. But once your role involves leading others it is very important that you lead with integrity, purpose and courage.

Join Opogo Community Expert and CEO of Courageous Leadership Diana Osagie as she walks you through her internationally renowned 7 Statements of Courageous Leadership. These include statements such as;

– “I am human first and a leader second, I remember the importance of family, love, compassion and grace.
– “Leadership has weight and I have the emotional and physical strength to carry it”

This webinar is designed for you to invigorate your leadership journey with a healthy dose of courage and tenacity.

This webinar is ideal for existing leadership team members looking for a spark of inspiration or those starting or on their journey to leadership.

Speaker Profile: Diana Osagie

Diana is a School Inspector, Consultant Head Teacher & Leadership Coach with 16 years’ experience leading secondary education, including six years as a successful head teacher in a London secondary school; Diana works at the cutting edge of education and school improvement. She is known as a resilient school leader, skilled in urban leadership under challenging circumstances. Diana has substantial success in developing school-wide models that strategically enhance the quality of teaching and learning across the curriculum and can couple sound strategic vision whilst giving clear operational direction.

The Language of Leadership

Trust, communication, motivation, delegation, positivity, creativity, feedback, flexibility and responsibility.

These are some of the words you might associate with great leadership. Like any other language, the language of leadership must be learned, honed and practiced. It is the art of communication. Give employees your undivided attention, listen first, talk after and observe your body language. But above all, connect.
Trust. As Sir Terry Leahy suggests, “trust is the bedrock of leadership.” Teachers should feel comfortable approaching their managers and leaders with any concerns they might have. Without that element of trust, employees are less likely to share their apprehensions, and this can cause further issues much later.

Table cogs

If there is mutual respect and trust, teachers are more likely to share their thoughts and give their honest opinions. Being an honest and open leader will inspire your employees to do the same.

Confidentiality falls under this branch. Sharing private details about another employee is considered bad practice, so any concerns raised should be dealt with empathy and integrity between yourselves.

Communication is also fundamental. Leaders should communicate goals and tasks clearly and concisely in all forums. That includes individual, departmental and whole-school communication, whether it is in person, via telephone or via email.

Although a good leader should be able to articulate their thoughts carefully, they should also be willing to listen.

Leader graph

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Managing Mental Health when Preparing for Exams

As GCSE exams loom just months away it is important to help pupils manage their mental health as well as their revision.

In this blog, we consider ways to reinforce a positive mindset in order to manage the anxiety that builds in the minds of our pupils as GCSE exams approach.

Over the next few months, teachers will go above and beyond for their pupils in order to help them achieve exam success. Revision notes, early morning sessions, after-school sessions, holiday revision camps, the list is endless and in some cases, teachers work harder for GCSE exams than their pupils do!

However, academic support is not the only support mechanism pupils need and it is important that managing exam stress and pupils mental health forms part of a school’s revision strategy.

thinking brain

Anxiety can be a real block to success because if a pupil feels anxious they often give themselves negative messages like: ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. If you hear your pupils say these things help them replace these thoughts with a more positive approach, ‘this is just anxiety and it is going to be okay’.

Visualisation can help pupils feel more positive. Spend five mindful minutes at the end of your revision sessions asking pupils to imagine themselves applying the knowledge they have just learnt in the exam.

Ask them to picture themselves sitting at the exam desk, turning over the paper and answering a question on the topic you have just revised. This will help reinforce a positive message of, ‘I can do this’. I love the quote, ‘Just because something is hard, does not mean it is impossible’.

This can put the struggle into some perspective and turn a negative thought into another positive. Help your pupils believe anything is possible with the right attitude and hard work.

Most pupils will know what grades they require in order to progress onto their post-16 pathway, whether that’s A Levels, BTECs or an apprenticeship, however, this can place pressure on pupils who may worry, ‘what if I don’t get the grades I need?’

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In order to manage anxiety linked to their results ensure your pupils have a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ in place. Putting pressure on themselves to pursue one single pathway can add to exam stress, and whilst having an end goal is an excellent motivator, having a Plan B can help manage this stress.

Encourage all your pupils to put a Plan B in place which they would be happy to implement if there is a slight roadblock in their way on results day. It is also important for parents to be on board with this too, as often it is the parents who end up in tears because they can’t see a solution when emotions are high.

Exam results are clearly very important, however, young people can still be successful in life if their GCSEs don’t go quite to plan and it is vital teachers reinforce this message.

A silver lining can always be found if needed, but for the time being encourage pupils to reach for the stars now, rather than looking for the silver lining in the clouds in August.

Email in School – Helpful or a Menace to Workload?

Electronic mail or email was invented in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. Originally invented to help us communicate better, today you would be forgiven for thinking that emails are unhelpful and a workload burden.

In 1993, I recall sitting alongside my head of Department, observing him pulling up a wooden stool, perched in front of a PC like a meerkat, working on a makeshift desk inside a woodwork-store-come-office; happily satisfied to be typing an email to another colleague who worked in the same building.

Sending a message electronically was quite the revolution at the time, particularly in schools. Gone was the need to walk to the staffroom and post a memo in 30 or 40 different pigeonholes.

Hand email tablet

One email now did the same job and I remember him feeling quite smug about the fact that he no longer needed to waste time chasing colleagues or bumping into the grumpy deputy headteacher who may give him another job to do, or remind them about all the ones that we hadn’t yet completed.

Such is the life of those who choose to work in schools, as a new teacher I looked on with a sense of wonder.

Email Research

Fast forward 30 years and today, with the outburst of social media, mobile devices in everyone’s hands and applications with notifications 24/7,  you can start to get a sense of why so many human beings are wishing to disconnect.

Time and time again, research into teacher recruitment and retention sites that teachers, working in independent and state schools in England are working in excess of 50 to 55 hours per week just to keep up with the day job. With most full-time teachers tied into the classroom to deliver 20 hours of teaching per week, and with an endless pile of marking, assessments and lesson planning to do, trying to keep on top of an endless supply of email messages, as well as communicate or answer countless questions or poorly-worded messages, is it any wonder that we are all cracking up?

Over the last five years, I have conducted research into my email behaviours have started to see how I could optimise the way in which I work. Aside from the obvious responses to emails on my personal devices, I started to think about how I close tackle my ‘inbox’ with automated messages, delay delivery, or simply stating a period of the day in which I would or would not read or reply to emails.

Hand email


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Identifying and supporting the Young Carers in your school

On the back of a Schools Autism Awareness event last year, our school decided to set up a Young Carers support group.

The Young Carers meet once a fortnight to socialise. There is no agenda set for the sessions. It is time for these students to relax, eat, drink and play.

A recent study in Glasgow found Young Carers to be almost 50% less likely to attend University. Another study has shown 80% of young carers miss out of childhood experiences. It is figures like this which make having a young carers provision in all schools so vital.

Last week I took the group on an Open Minds project to The University of East London (UEL). The 6-month project will help students learn about the brain and mental health. None of the students had ever visited a university before.

Holding hands

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About our Community Expert


Bernie Callanan


Over 10 years of SEN experience in a number of settings. Developed whole-school approaches to ensure students with SEN are catered with the support they need.

Placing the student with SEN at the heart of all decisions made regarding their education, whilst liaising with all stakeholders involved.

Bernie is our education expert who provides SEN related content.

It takes a good school leader to know when a school is struggling

The recent Ofsted Annual Summary for 2017-18 led by Christine Spelman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, notes that there appears to be an upward trend of improvement in schools from the previous year.

While we all hate that dreaded phone call from Ofsted whose job it is to improve the quality of our provision by giving honest and incisive feedback- good and better leaders and educators are all too deeply aware that it is down to them to continuously improve schools and settings rapidly so that pupils can benefit- no matter what background they come from.

Early Years providers have done remarkably well. 95% of early years’ settings are providing good and outstanding education this year “compared to only 74% six years ago”.

“86% of schools and 69% of “all non -association independent schools” were judged by Ofsted to be good and outstanding.”

Furthermore, the number of Further Education (FE) providers have significantly improved and now 76% of them provide a good and outstanding education.All positive news which is great!

However, the worrying data that is concerning is that 490 schools are still deemed “stuck” for continuing to perform poorly since 2005. Then there are the schools that have not been inspected who are not providing the quality first education that all children deserve!

Old way new way

If you are a school leader in such a school – although you are accountable, (as that is what leadership is about), you can make a huge difference with your actions in schools that are struggling.

While it might be extremely stressful, daunting, scary and overwhelming to be part of a requiring improvement or inadequate school- don’t be fearful! Stay calm and purposeful! It is what you do to improve things that count!

It is the leaders’ duty with the leadership team to ensure the school makes a positive turnaround, not only for the children’s sake but for the staff’s sake as people’s livelihoods and wellbeing is at stake.

There are plenty of opportunities to spot ways to make rapid improvements. Here are a few things that will help support you your journey of turning things around.

1. Ensure safeguarding systems are of the highest quality, thorough and rigorous

Whoever we are- when working with children and vulnerable people, our core purpose is to ensure safeguarding systems are robust and effective.

Whatever school you are in, meet with the relevant people and ensure the Central Register is updated and your school is compliant with safer recruitment practices and DBS checks.

In addition, check that all staff know what to do in the event of a safeguarding concern and know the safeguarding and whistle-blowing policy inside out! Without effective safeguarding systems in place in all areas of the school, schools will struggle and will fail- particularly in an Ofsted or local authority inspection. Once that is sorted, you can focus on the other stuff.

2. Take daily learning walks

This is non-negotiable! As a leader, you are responsible for the entire school’s outcomes with the leadership team and also the quality of teaching and learning.

By taking daily learning walks you can create a coherent and realistic picture of how children are doing. These regular snapshots will also give you key information, which you sometimes can’t get when observing teachers. Develop your own evidence of how certain subjects are taught or which teacher is delivering quality first teaching.

Of course, you are going to carry out observations of teachers and book scrutinies but that daily evidence will tell you how your school is doing.

Do daily walks in the playground and lunch halls and get a picture of what is happening beyond the classroom setting. You are also developing a visible presence which is crucial in all organisations.

Is what others are telling you, what you are seeing and hearing? Is the quality of provision in all areas of the school good or better? If not what are you going to do about it? How and when?

make a difference-1


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Murder media: Tackling violence promoted through music

Is Trap, Drill and Grime the new pop music? But more importantly who exactly is listening to it?

2019 sees the first trap song entering the UK charts entitled Air force.

You’d be forgiven to think it celebrates that classic trainer Nike Air Force one however when you delve deeper into the lyrics you see content that is indicative of the current climate around systemic youth violence:

I was on the roads tryna double up
Home, now I wanna see my P’s just triple
Had to run a boy down in my Air Force, p***ed
Cos now they got a crease in the middle

The wider debate around the effects of violent music, films and video games is something we can save for a future blog however I can safely say after delivering in over 20 children secure units and prisons I’ve never heard Adele blaring out of cell!


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How to identify behaviours in the classroom

Anyone who has worked in a school setting knows that there are many unusual behaviours from the majority of pupils that present themselves almost daily.

Playing detective to unpick what these behaviours may mean is one of the most challenging, yet interesting aspects of working with children and young people.

Observing these behaviours, speaking with the pupils and colleagues in order to form an opinion and then effect a programme to support and develop is a key role of being an educational practitioner.

1. Observing

What exactly am I seeing…?

– Chatting

Everyone has experienced a chatty class, a chatty lesson or a chatty pupil. Never quite feeling that you as the teacher of a session are being heard and followed is frustrating. This frustration can make you question your ability to teach.

Rethinking this and seeing it from the class, groups or pupils’ point of view will help with your well-being and with reducing the talking in your lesson. Pupils chat for a variety of reasons. Unfinished conversations, a feeling of anonymity (I can talk as I am invisible and not really noticed or valued), a need to chat in order to learn (yes this does exist!) and chatting can also mean that the learner is not engaged with the learning.

– Anxiety and nervousness

Each of us can suffer from anxiety at one time or another and for children, this, unfortunately, is also true. Being anxious makes the pupil appear disinterested and distracted. Of course, they are as they are battling with a myriad of emotions and feelings that are blocking their ability to be present.

They may be anxious as they are not very sure of the expectations for them in the session, they are concerned about speaking in front of an audience or indeed speaking at all, and they could be worried about non-school related issues and concerns.

Emotional girl

– Sadness

Being sad and coping with sadness can often go undetected in pupils. By their very definition and being, children are seen as gregarious, resilient, happy, easy to please and risk takers.

Our approach to the pupils that do not fit into these categories, some or any, is often us, as teachers, questioning what is wrong with the pupil and why are they not fitting into the stereotype. Of course, there are as many reasons for this as they are children, but one of the reasons experience has taught me is that the child may be sad or coping with a sad situation or experience.

– Reluctance

Being reluctant to participate in an activity in a class environment can stem from low self-esteem or self-image. This can be about confidence and also about their previous experiences and expectations.

The pupil who refuses to conform or does not appear pleased that you have volunteered them for a class job or honour may just be feeling reluctant. We can often interpret this reluctance as rudeness or obstinate and our ego can take offence. The child, however, may just be unsure of themselves.

2. Gathering information through conversations with; the pupils, their peers and colleagues.

– The upshot is no one really knows why anyone does anything but gathering as much information as possible around the behaviours can help with the offer of support!

Organised class discussions to focus on pupil well-being is a good starting point. This may be planned around a story starter, the focus of a circle time or a similar empathetic opportunity in the classroom for a discussion. Schools are using animals to help with this facilitation, specifically dogs, who often come into school with a trainer who can support with the process.

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Getting to speak and know the class and the dynamics are crucial. Arts and crafts activities can often illicit pertinent conversations. The old ‘sewing circle’ model, with soothing music on in the background. Planning quiet times into your class day or week also helps with the opportunity for best copy work to be produced or colouring in and finishing off.

When these activities happen informal conversations often take place. Sitting with the class and specific pupils for lunch or on the way to and from a school trip is another forum and speaking with the teaching assistant, music teacher, PE coach or the adults who supervise the breakfast club or after school provision allows for another adults’ insight to be gathered.

3. Creating a programme of support and development once the information has been gathered.

– Simple changes in classroom practice can have a huge effect. This is when you can be at your most creative and use your skills and knowledge of children and their development.

Consider the following:

  • Giving opportunities for talk time in the classroom
  • Having a ‘worry box’ that pupils can write their worries and concerns on
  • Ensuring all pupils have the opportunity of working and chatting with a friend during any one school day
  • Having a ‘complements’ focus on a Friday where each pupil gets the opportunity to receive compliments from their classmates and to also complement themselves
  • Creating a clear outline of expectations for every job you ask the pupils to ‘volunteer’ for
  • Providing books and reading opportunities that are feeling focused; this could ab a category in our book area
  • Get some class pets; fishes, stick insects, small animals. They allow pupils to be caring and nurturing with, and to also make mistakes with as well. A fish does not shout at you if you forget to feed them once!

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– Using school structures

These structures can be used to support; mentoring, teaching assistant time, buddy systems, SENCo involvement, school nurse, counsellors can also be a great help, and this will be for more specific needs that you feel you would need some support to address. Use the many ‘human’ resources in your school setting and never underestimate the value of an open and sensitive conversation with your colleagues.

– Parental engagement

This is another area that can help support a child. Working in partnership can be hugely successful and can enable pupils to flourish in the school setting. Supporting pupils in this way can also help with your own professional development as a teacher as engaging with parents successfully is a skill in itself and one that can only be learnt from experience. You may also be helping a family to address their own worries and concerns and thereby additionally help the pupil.

Different behaviours are not always for the reason we think and one of the key elements of being a teacher that focuses on well-being and support is that of playing a detective and of taking nothing for granted!

Make a SENsational impact with AIR teaching

Being a teacher is a challenging profession at best but becoming a special needs teacher, the ability to effectively manage a wide range of student behaviours and adapt to changing situations is vital.

From my personal experiences working with children with learning difficulties, it is important that we adapt our style of teaching to suit their needs and capabilities. An approach that I have found to be incredibly effective is to build confidence in your students through A.I.R teaching.


What is that?

It is a method of teaching that aims to be Accessible, Inclusive and Responsible (AIR).



Every member of the class needs to be able to access your starter exercise. Before the lesson begins, students should know that they can – and are encouraged – to get involved. Accessible starters encourage students to think about what they know, not what they don’t. Open-ended questions and ‘odd one outs’ offer students the opportunity to contribute and justify without being told they are wrong. Explanations can start off at a basic level, and extend without limit.



Board displays can exclude students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Inclusive template designs are easy to make and can be reused and refined for subsequent lessons.

  • Spacious whiteboards provide students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) increased opportunities to access work
  • Pastel shades reduce visual stress for students with dyslexia
  • Separating text into boxes supports students with dyspraxia
  • Visuals often help those with autism or speech and language difficulties



Teaching assistant time with a student should never replace teacher time. Teachers specialise in understanding how to help students progress. They are responsible for using this to support students with SEN, as well as building relationships in the same way they have gotten to know the rest of the class. Students with SEN have an equal right to receive accessible teaching and be included by a teacher taking responsibility for their progress.