I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about the best thing school leaders can be doing, day-in, day-out.
Many times in my career research has confirmed what I know to be true from experience. A little cited but brilliant book, Student-Centred Leadership by Viviane Robinson centres on my favourite issue: the golden thread from school leadership to student outcomes. Robinson’s conclusion, having surveyed the research on how leaders make the most meaningful difference in schools, was proverbial music to my ears: The more leaders focus on their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes. I maintain that Headteachers who are really doing their job effectively know this instinctively; what’s so great about Robinson’s book is the empirical evidence she uses to support this claim. Here is the impact on student performance of her five dimensions of Student-centered leadership and the one that has the most impact by some way is for Headteachers to Lead Teacher Learning and Development:

If you want to find out more, go buy the book! It’ll be the best book on educational leadership you’ve bought this year. This pdf is pretty good too:
[scribd id=244525702 key=key-5ZzLuC63kfzMUDH3a8P2 mode=scroll]
You could also watch this video:

Invest in your staff. I have spent the weekend writing up the last of thirty Performance Development reviews, eight UPS recommendations and three Threshold applications. That paperwork derives from hours of conversations about teaching and learning at our school. It allows me to explore the intricacies of the job for us all with colleagues genuinely interested in becoming better teachers. We have had some amazing moments of revelation, one of my favourites being, Real student learning isn’t anything very exciting to watch. I have been able to look my fellow teachers in the eye, shake their hands and thank them for all they do for our students. Along with my teaching, it’s the most important work I do.
I even loved writing up the Performance Development reviews. They allowed me to put on record certain things that colleagues who go beyond what any Headteacher can reasonably expect for their students need to see in print (needless to say we do not have anyone called Esmeralda working at Huntington…):

Esmeralda is an exemplary classroom teacher. Her students’ A Level and GCSE results support this view and furthermore they support the judgement that she has had an extraordinary year in her work at Huntington School. She teaches with commitment and care, fulfilling our school purpose in spades. She seems inspired by the success of her colleagues in the department and in the school as a whole and I anticipate her going from strength to strength over the next few years. I am not sure if it is possible to ask more of a colleague; she has no need to feel at all modest about her expertise and should feel confident that she can build on this extraordinary year as we look towards 2015.

Put students and colleagues equal first. Support your colleagues to help them become better teachers by removing every single barrier between them and doing a great job. And you can only genuinely do that if you get in the classroom and teach yourself. As Robinson says, when Headteachers teach themselves it enables them, to learn in detail about the challenges facing teachers and the conditions they require to succeed [so that] any obstacles to creating those conditions for learning can be overcome.
Stop the madness of PRP and invest your time in your staff. What else should Headteachers be doing but supporting the improvement of teaching and learning? What else are Heads so busy doing that is more important? I have heard horror stories where Performance Management has been about a points scoring system where teachers get 2 points for this, and 4 points for that and only if they reach some arbitrary threshold points score are they deemed to deserve a pay rise; another case where certain potential Threshold teachers are given a letter advising them not to apply this year. Whatever the truth of those tales, why not follow the Viviane Robinson idea of successful school leadership (good educational leaders are those who make a difference to the learning and well-being of their students) which I think is based upon this simple equation: Experience + Evidence = Leadership Wisdom.

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This post has 18 Comments

  1. This sentence sealed it for me: “when Headteachers teach themselves it enables them, to learn in detail about the challenges facing teachers.” Difficult for some due to school context, but if Heads are in a position to do so, I think every headteacher should teach.

  2. This makes so much sense!
    John, do your Line Managers of Departments have specialist subject knowledge? So would you ideally have perhaps a Mathematician or Scientist line managing Maths for example? I know there are various views on this and would be interested to hear yours.

    1. Hi Colleen. Not necessarily. I Line Manage MFL and Maths. I can teach maths but MFL is a challenge, but in terms of pedagogy etc., it doesn’t really mater.

  3. Very interesting. As a Chair of Governors absolutely not enamoured of PRP (it’s the one thing that makes me consider whether I should be a school governor), I am interested how one can [attempt to] assure consistency and fairness in terms of the decisions made, without some kind of [quantitative] metric. It’s a very serious question. Thanks.

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