It is good to talk

A regular argument in my household centres on my inability to effectively use my mobile phone. I have paraphrased various ‘lengthy’ frustrated observations from my family, which usually start with ‘turn your bloody phone on’.  This is not a worry of most young people with the need to turn the phone off, not on, the major concern.  Nottingham University’s latest research states that on average 18-30 year olds are checking their phone a depressing 85 times a day.  This is double what they estimated and is 85 external interruptions to their daily life, 85 interruptions to coherent thought.

The concern I have is that in education we are rarely mastering anything. Reflection or thinking is becoming a lost art and for some an expensive retreat of those seeking enlightenment.  As the Greek philosopher Socrates stated at his trial for corrupting youth, “an unexamined life is not worth having”.  Do we, in the twenty first century, have the chance to reflect on our work and improve?

We are being bombarded by external forces. Home life is a constant bleep of mobile phone interruptions.  Work email is now obligatory on most phones.  We do not stop, think and reflect on what we are doing and this frightening pace leads to rash decisions and ineffective communication, often with those who suffer most being our beleaguered families.

My good friend and assistant headteacher Rachael Stevens (@Murphieface) read Kim Scott’s framework for leadership, ‘Radical Candour’ and she presented to the rest of the SLT the need for a leader at all levels to have caring but firm conversations without the fear of professional rancour on either side. The nub of this, Kim Scott and Rachael would argue, is about being a manager who cares.  A lack of care or insincere care will soon be seen through and actions and development will not occur.  In our school we need to ‘tweak’ and revisit very good systems and staff, not abandon them.  These changes, no matter how small, can cause unnecessary upset, especially if the system to be changed is long established and is currently seen to be working satisfactorily.

To have robust conversations, leaders need to invest in key areas of their job. For example, how can we improve teaching and learning if we have not mastered lesson observations?  Lesson observations need more than a cursory observation, they require sensitive feedback, feedback that is caring, supportive and developmental, not simply observations leading to criticism.

In my school this year, I have been in 86 lessons but I still feel my feedback/impact is not as effective as it could be because our reviews are too quick; a week of lesson observations known as the ‘Blink Reviews’ with quick feedback (see earlier post) and then off to the next department. Next year, heads of departments want us to spend a little more time with them; ponder that fabulous statement.  Heads of departments want their leadership team in lessons observing for two weeks so that the conversation becomes two way and improvements/developments can be seen.  ‘Blink and Bounce’ reviews (BAB for short), are exciting and will come out of a month of reflection on our current review procedure leading to this new BAB review process whereby:

We want to spend time in lessons.

  • We want to share my Ofsted inspector experience.
  • We don’t want a review to be rushed. We want to provide the chance for a department to direct/re-direct to the areas we need to see and may have missed and to have a proper, face to face conversation.

Therefore, in this crucial area of our school, our departmental lesson reviews have been developed because we as a leadership team have had the chance to review, talk, listen and tweak. This will hopefully be for the benefit of all involved and has been an enjoyable conversation involving all from deputy to NQT, head of department to governors and will, I believe, improve our review process and our teaching.

I watched and enjoyed some fabulous live television, the wonderful Adele and the England rugby team. Adele’s performance at Glastonbury was inspirational. I marvelled at how she was clearly in the moment, lost in her art although I struggled to connect her cockney accent with her wonderful singing voice!  In the rugby, I realised soon into the match that I and my son were immersed in the battle, phones off, revelling at the balletic physicality.  I had been released, by the two dramatic performances, from the pressures of 2016 and had concentrated on one thing.  The reason many schools such as mine have a revered SENCo such as Debbie is that they have vast expertise on one subject, additional needs, underpinned by obvious care.  My conclusion is that where leaders are struggling is because we are asking them to multi-task rather than single task properly.  This is why teaching and learning at my school is moving forward under Rachael’s guidance: it is her central task. Leadership, in all areas, needs to allow for proper reflection, on a regular basis. Confident, developmental conversations will then follow: face to face, and hopefully with a cup of tea, not a sterile email.

Now, where’d I put my phone!