Connection, connection, connection

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Dearly beloved teachers, educators and leaders,

As you begin this new school year with the inevitable focus on development plans, OfSTED, assessment, the curriculum, new initiatives and so on, remember the most important element of your job is the people.  Those little human beings in front of you in the classroom, playground or dining hall, the bigger human beings around you in the staff room, and those human beings waiting in the playground or at the school gates.

Inside each and every one of those people is a star that is aching to shine its brightest.  This star represents the true essence of who we are.  It is beyond labels and defies concrete description.  It is more of a feeling.  It is the part of you that feels joy, that wants to dance when it is excited, it is the part of you that says ‘yes!’ when given the choice to do something it loves, it is that part that grins its head off when it is happy, it is sparkle in the eyes of someone who has been seen.

The most important thing you can do in your role is to connect with that star. Connection is everything in a relationship.  Before you can hope to teach, lead or persuade you must connect with, or establish a rapport with, the other person/people.  It is a very simple thing to do, but may be challenging, as it will require you to put aside your judgements, ego and role.  Instead, it requires you to:

  1. Believe in the human potential for greatness. You have to believe that everyone CAN.
  2. See the shiny star. You have to see beyond the labels, behaviours and outward appearance.

Once you’ve made the decision to do these two things the rest is simple.

On meeting your pupils, colleagues and parents, look them in the eye, smile and say hello. You may not even need to talk.  Sometimes a look or gesture is enough to connect you.

Every human soul is seeking connection.  Without it we feel lost, angry, confused or lonely.  Starting school can be challenging for pupils, parents and teachers, so I urge you to take the time to connect with every one you encounter so that they feel seen.  You’ll notice that as their star begins to shine, so will yours.  It is the best investment you can make.

P.S. Remember to connect with your own shiny star too!

The Art of Adjusting

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When discussing the changes and challenges in life with my coach, she often talks about the autopilot on a plane that makes continuous adjustments to speed, altitude and attitude of the aircraft so that it maintains a constant profile and arrives safely at its destination.

Teaching also requires the teacher to learn the subtle ‘Art of Adjusting’.  Unlike pilots, a teacher might measure engagement, skills and knowledge to ensure that her pupils are on course and will safely reach their destination.  Once the destination (outcome) has been set, and the course plotted (lesson plan written), the lesson slowly unfolds and then begins a series of adjustments.  For example…

Today I was teaching a class of Y3 students who were learning how sedimentary rocks were formed.  The teacher and I had planned a lesson based upon their previous learning.  There was a hook, a purposeful outcome, some discussion and thinking time, and most exciting of all a model based on making a sandwich.  All should have been plain sailing.

However, we quickly discovered that, despite previous work , the children were only able to tell us one fact about sedimentary rocks. There was adjustment #1.  Oh…they don’t really know anything.  Hmm…how I can make this simpler and start from where they are?

I decided that I’d have to do a bit of direct teaching using our model of a sandwich to explain the various layers of sedimentary rocks.  Well, that was fine and the children were enjoying the smells of the various ingredients.  However, sooner or later, we realised that the vocabulary and concepts weren’t really sticking. Adjustment #2 add in some actions, repetition and almost a song (thankfully I thought better of the singing) and the learning was starting to stick.

Several more adjustments later, if you quizzed those children tomorrow, they may possibly, perhaps be able to tell you the names of some sedimentary rocks, how they are formed and a what we use some of them for.  Then again, they might just tell you about sandwiches…

The 5Cs of Leadership

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Schools are incredibly busy places, and every now and then it is important that leaders (at all levels) take time to stop and reflect on the journey so far, the actions they have taken, and their impact.  Whilst leading such a session this week (helped by my trusty felt-tip pens, paper and sticky notes), I was privileged to hear an account of inspiring, unassuming leadership that, to my eyes at least, can be captured in just 5Cs.

  1. Care – this HT cared passionately about everyone in the school community – pupils, parents, teachers, grandparents, and local people.  Visitors to the school commented on the warm and welcoming atmosphere (as did I).  Staff talked about feeling valued and being regularly thanked.
  2. Clarity –  every action in this school has a clear purpose, and both the HT and the staff knew exactly WHY they were doing things.  Having supported the T&L leader to write a learning policy using Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ approach, which emphasises starting with WHY, I was very pleased to hear this!
  3. Can-do – No problem, big or small, is too much for this HT.  Her motto seems to be ‘right, let’s deal with it’.  Her outlook is optimistic and her belief in the whole of the school community is positively palpable.  Many leaders would drive through changes with fear or power, but not this leader.  Her decision-making is backed by her belief in people’s potential, coupled with the fact that, as I’ve said above, she obviously cares about and values those around her.  
  4. Consistency – it was clear to me that a seam of consistency ran through lots of the discussions taking place at the school – consistency of approach, expectations, staff and much more.  Many things have been put into place that provide structure for the pupils, parents and staff, which makes the school a calm and safe place to be.
  5. Courage – the challenges faced by this particular leader are huge, and to tackle them (especially as a young leader) takes great courage.  Lao Tzu once said ‘From caring comes courage’.  Well, given this lady cares so much and is so passionate about her new school, perhaps Lao Tzu is right!

I really was in awe of this leader as I left for the day, and have been basking in the glow of her inspiration ever since.  I’ve also been applying the 5Cs to my challenges, and I am sure that it’s going to pay off very soon.

With thanks to Rimah Aasim, Worth Valley Primary School for her time.