Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Leadership and Integrity

Another session in our programme to develop Aspiring Senior Leaders today, so I thought I'd write today's post on something a little more serious than my last efforts. If you believe me to be capable of such a thing.

We were talking about the qualities of leadership. There was a neat little mantra for us to digest, about leadership revolving around "Principle, Purpose and People" (and because of the rule of threes and the repetition and capitalisation of the first letters, you know this must be Good).

The principles relate to our moral purpose, as leaders and as educators in general, to create a stimulating and challenging environment in which teachers and students can improve as learners and as people. Laudable. No controversy there. Loud applause from the gallery.

The Purpose we spoke about was described as our core business, the school's raison d'ĂȘtre. We are there to lead in the process of education, to teach young people to be as great as it is possible for them to be, and to teach them the tools (and the content if you wish: I'm not getting into that dichotomy here!) to achieve their goals. We are there to create the right conditions, the right ethos, the right curriculum, and lots of right things generally. Again, no argument. Applause, bows, screams, throwing of underwear onto the stage etc.

Finally we talked about the People, and the importance of the social relationships in schools. We talked about this with equal reference to the students and the teachers we lead, which was refreshing. Sometimes I hear so much "it's all about the students" that I get the feeling we as teachers are supposed to sacrifice everything from our health to our happiness in the service of young people, and be thankful for that privilege. But if you want to corporatise the language of education, and insist that students are our "core business", then logically they are actually the product of the education system: In this analogy, the customers might be parents, if we're feeling generous, or the needs of the state and commercial capitalist economy if we're not (notice how skilfully I negotiated those tricky ideological waters with impartiality, by not telling you I'm a closet Marxist what I believe to be the case). The position of the teacher, then, is as either a manufacturing tool - I've been called worse - or as a skilled craftsperson. Either way you look at that analogy, one of the most important factors in creating the ideal education product is either the sharpness of the tool, or the skill of the craftsperson. The health and well-being of the teacher is important to achieving great educational outcomes, and I was glad we were stressing it at the session today, ironically just ahead of our Staff Well-Being Committee meeting tomorrow.

The double irony, however, was that this discussion of the qualities of a leader had just been preceded by another session on the importance of data. Why data? What is data? Why do we need data? And all of the answers came out which you'd expect. "It allows us to track students, to monitor progress, it allows us to measure success, and create accountability systems etc". All of which are not in themselves remotely bad. Except when we start to interrogate the success criteria a little more closely. How far is your school's attainment "above the average"? How many of the students have met their 5 A*-C grades? How many have secured the E-Bacc? It struck me that few people in the educational world (on Twitter I've had the privilege of meeting several, including @Johntomsett and @Headguruteacher) ever actually question these measures of success, despite extensive evidence they ought to be questioned. How many great people who have shaped the last century would have been written off by our current educational success criteria? Einstein is the first to spring to mind, John Lennon another, but there must be hundreds of thousands more. Why? Because we accept the narrow definitions of success which are thrust at us. Do you have your English, Maths, Science, Language and Humanity? You shall succeed! Well, I've got news for you: I got them, and I got them with good grades. Didn't make me a success, I can assure you. And I can find you no shortage of my colleagues who'll back me up when I say that, the kind souls.

So here we go, my first attempt to do something very real, with integrity. I'm going to suggest to you that a truly strong leader is the one who has the courage to put the PEOPLE he serves first, students and staff. A truly strong leaders bases their PRINCIPLES and PURPOSE around the needs, desires and highest aspirations of those people they serve, and the communities they serve. And if that means saying no to external pressures which fallaciously propose to invalidate your achievements, those of your teachers and your students by comparing them to others with a bogus set of ideologically-driven standards and agendas, then today is the day I stand up and say NO.

Really really loudly.

And pray that I don't get shouted down by the hoards who fell for the rhetoric of failure and success in the first place.

Quick post-scripts: If you're a senior leader who is busy jumping up and down with your pitch-fork loudly proclaiming a revolution, ask yourself this: Would you give someone like me a job if it was within your power?

Your THUNK for the evening...