Leading in a Brave New World

By Emmanuel Botwe, Headteacher, Tytherington School

It would be an understatement to say that school leaders are conscious of the emphasis on results in the current education climate. League tables and Ofsted inspections are part of the reality of daily life, yet we must be extremely careful of how this pressure plays out. Whether we like it or not it is filtered through our teams into the classroom, at the heart of what we do, influencing and steering young people as they grow into adulthood.

As headteachers we are faced with perennial headaches around curriculum choices, to balance the inclusion of subjects that fulfil national requirements yet also deliver a rounded education.

I can honestly say that it feels like there is more pressure now than when I was at school. At the ‘sharp end’ there is a very real drive around performance management to deliver more positive outcomes with less resources. There are a number of ways we can respond to this  – and working with Pete and the team at First Team has helped us as an SLT to recognise that we always have choices in how we do things.

Understanding our intentions is to play the long game; to operate from the same place as a single team rather than react as disparate parts. That’s where we’ve had to work hard to come together under a single vision as opposed to getting constantly distracted by external pressures that can so easily derail an organisation if it loses focus.

We know our culture isn’t something we own as a team of staff – it belongs to everyone who interacts with the school, so our students, parents and the local community are all very much part of it. Creating this relies on really good communication and it’s something we’re always working on.

We know there are some difficult conversations to be had, but facing those round the table together makes the discussion an easier one. The results-driven conditioning that surrounds schools also raises very valid issues around emotional wellbeing. We are aware that budget cuts reduces valuable access to additional staff, family support workers and counsellors, and that we need to think creatively about how best to support our school community and come up with compelling responses. We’re opening up conversations with parents and creating a forum for discussion around mental health because talking about it is key, so we can understand collective needs and address concerns.

It may be a bold statement, but I think that the existing education system is lagging behind what parents now want for their children. Millennials have different characteristics and are being raised in a brave new world of instant global communication, where ideas and innovation are triumphing, with company directors often in their late teens taking far less traditional career routes. If we don’t align with this there is a danger we will see quite a glaring disconnect in our approach to educating young people and preparing them for this brave new world.

Engaging and motivating our team is also fundamental, as their role is to inspire the next generation so enjoying what they do is not really just a ‘nice to have’. For me as a headteacher, it’s about ensuring everyone feels valued and that there is autonomy rather than micro-management. It’s not possible to feel fulfilled unless you are able to fully take responsibility – leaders create leaders, not followers after all.

The pressure is very real, there is no denying that. But we don’t have to let it hem us into a tight corner, because we can’t operate at our best when there’s no space for perspective. Instead, we come together as a team and we challenge each other to keep getting better. I often ask, ‘If Ofsted didn’t exist, would we be doing this?’ and it’s a helpful litmus test to look at where we might be getting embroiled in non-essential work. Most importantly, we bring passion and heart to what we do and we always remember why we’re here. We can all look back at our education and remember teachers who made a real difference to our lives. That is incredibly powerful and reminds us what a privilege it is to do what we do.

Emmanuel Botwe is a client of First Team and wanted to write this piece about his leadership style that we are supporting him with. If you need similar help, do get in touch by calling 01625 434 803 or clicking here to send an email.

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