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30 November 2021

The Monday Briefing: (Not) Workin' Day and Night

The Monday Briefing: (Not) Workin Day and Night

Last week, I came across a tremendous tweet by Tom Sherrington regarding distributed leadership in Schools. It stated, in a simple and forthright manner:

Excellent behaviour system

+Excellent CPD

+Manageable teaching load

+Exciting curriculum

+Tons of team time.

+Intelligent appraisal.

+The opposite of a ‘stay late’ culture.

+Family first attitude.

= Well-being.

Actions, not words.

As well as making an excellent set of ingredients for running an excellent school, this falls largely along the lines of something which the College has been trying to embrace in the last two years: an approach geared towards improving outcomes by advocating routines which are supportive of staff in as many ways as possible. Of course, staff are expected to work hard while they are here to support every single student under their care - but we must also be aware that all of the above aspects make it conducive to bringing out the best in them:

Excellent behaviour system:

The College has a clear and robust process for dealing with student underperformance or where a lack of acceptable conduct is apparent. Where effort grades in our ‘Months Marks’ monitoring process are significantly below ‘good’, then intervention is rapidly introduced. Whether that means a report, or more regular engagement with parents, students are set clear, measurable targets for improvement. The vast majority of our students have a comprehensive understanding of the expectations which have been set for them - and they engage with them as intended. They also see the link between good effort and performing well academically. When students can’t meet the expectations of behaviour, staff are also supported regularly by SLT - who actively engage with any instances and work to rectify poor conduct.

Excellent CPD and Tons of team time:

I’ve spent a great deal of time working with Adrian Winiecki, the Head of Maths and staff member with responsibility for teacher development, to find a comprehensive approach to making teachers more effective. Before instigating any kind of system, we had to consider the bigger picture: what does a highly effective teacher at Ealing Independent College look like? What characteristics do they manifest on a daily basis? How do they get the best from our students?

The answers to these questions were collaboratively deduced through the staff-student charter. A blueprint for success identified the following as key characteristics in maximising learning: Subject Knowledge and Planning; Teacher Enthusiasm and Interest; Communication and a Positive Approach, Making the Learning Active, Relevant and Engaging; Interaction and Questioning; Ensuring a balanced workload for success; Providing personalised feedback and support.

Regular student surveys advise strengths and weaknesses, and these are then addressed in weekly CPD sessions, which are interleaved with team building activities throughout the year. All of this is aimed at creating a strong level of trust amongst the staff, to support one another where possible and can be particularly effective in our small school where often there are departments of only one member of staff.

Manageable Teaching Load:

Though staff hours at the College are much the same as in most state schools, there is an emphasis on quality over quantity for the students who enrol here. From my own personal experience, marking five A Level essays can be turned around far more quickly and with a greater sense of purpose and tailored direction than having, perhaps, twenty-five to get through. Stability amongst the staff and a consistently high level of knowledge across them in terms of the subjects they teach means that comfort in delivering what is expected of them remains high amongst the staff body.

Exciting Curriculum:

Though we are beholden largely to GCSE and A Level syllabi, that does not mean that we must ‘teach to the exam’ with laborious rigidity. Any opportunity to make learning more inviting is taken here. Science is a truly practical subject, with experiments happening for each class at least once a week. Physical Education, due largely to our lack of facilities, can be approached differently, with ten-pin bowling, rock-climbing or laser-tag supplementing the basic diet of football, tennis and athletics. Where we can, we innovate - and our students thank us for it.

Intelligent Appraisal:

As well as coordinating appraisal targets to support the College development plan, staff have in place their own, self chosen project geared towards improving their own professional practice. This ensures that all teachers feel invested in the journey forward for the College, whilst the College invests in their improvement. A coaching model is now embedded, with the intention of leading staff to identify for themselves their own priorities for growth. They are prompted towards this through the aforementioned student surveys and strengths profiles, conducted by a consultancy company run by the parent of one of our own students, and reviewed in detail during our January Inset day.

The opposite of ‘stay late’ culture:

One of my first actions as Principal was to make adjustments to the expectations placed upon staff based upon their departure times in the evening. Previously expected to stay until 5.30pm each day, regardless of when their last lesson was, I reviewed whether such an arrangement was apt given how Covid had changed the landscape of work. Placing trust in staff to make their own decisions on when and where they work best, and allowing the flexibility to prioritise as professionals, this has certainly lifted morale. Staff are neither expected nor encouraged to stay late. They know that they have a duty to the students to do the best they can for them - this is all the motivation they need.

Family first attitude:

As a relatively new father, I’ve been able to benefit from a culture of give and take within the College. I will, of course, give my all in the classroom as well as in providing leadership to the best of my abilities, but I am also mindful of just how important spending time with my family is. This has, to my mind, been another of Covid’s legacies: that time with loved ones has become more precious - and I, like all of the staff at the College, see the importance in supporting those closest to me. The wellbeing boost of seeing my daughter’s glee at my having witnessed her haphazard attempts at a forward roll at gymnastics class far outweighs any gains spent planning lessons or setting up displays on a Friday when my lessons have finished. I want staff to feel similarly - that they can find a work/life balance which works for them - and in doing so, I know that they will perform to the best of their abilities. 

= Wellbeing

As Sherrington proclaims, actions certainly speak louder than words. I feel, as Principal, that I have a duty to make my vision a reality by following through with the plans I have. That doesn’t just mean that the College grows in stature as the students develop. It means that we invest, wholeheartedly, in staff too. I value their contribution, as, I’m sure, they value working within a supportive and inclusive environment.

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