The Notebook- What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be? (Part 2)

I want to be
A leader that is reflective
Robbie Burns said in ‘To a Louse’ ‘O would some power the giftie gie is, to see oursels as others see us’ As a leader do you make time to reflect on your everyday decisions and conversations? I usually do this just before I nod off to sleep. How do we perceive ourselves? How do we know it’s the right perception? I’m sure many leaders walk around blissfully unaware of what staff’s true opinion is of them and maybe that’s ok in some circumstances. However- how do we know if we are really getting it right? What tools do we have at our disposal? I really like those 360 questionnaires that so many leadership courses ask you to complete, yet are we brave enough to complete them or ask staff for feedback? This is a difficult one, as some staff may be a little worried about writing the truth for fear of consequences. As a former Head of English I used to ask staff to do this anonymously every year- it was great feedback and generally there were lots of positives but also a few hard messages. However hard they were to hear, it certainly made me stop and be reflective and review how I handled certain situations.  I think being reflective goes back to part 1 of his blog about how good a listener you are. Note to self- am I being truly reflective? I know this is an area that I can definitely work on more.  This blog is certainly helping me towards doing that.

I want to be
A leader that is outward looking
How much can we learn from other schools? So much is the answer. I believe some of my best ideas have been from colleagues on Twitter that I’ve taken and then developed further. I love reading case studies from Heads I follow on Twitter and wherever possible visiting their schools. Sometimes it can be too easy to be inward looking when there is so much external pressure. Sometimes it can be too easy to focus on the wrong things when really it’s the basics that need addressing. I like to research topics, find out who is doing really well at something and then make contact with them to learn even more from them. Note to self- if I ever get to be a Head, actively encourage my staff to do this.

I want to be
A leader that can make the right appointments 
Again Richard Branson talks a lot about this. He talks about character being higher than intellect and says ‘don’t get hung up on qualifications alone. A person who has multiple degrees in your field isn’t always better than someone who has broad experience and a great personality’ I love this! Probably because my own qualifications aren’t brilliant yet I feel that I have so much more to offer than just qualifications. Luckily my qualifications haven’t hindered my career progression, but interestingly no one has ever explored why my qualifications perhaps don’t match up to my results or my references. If would be employers did a little more digging they’d perhaps find out that I ran a successful restaurant whilst completing my degree. So whilst I was studying through the day, at night I worked every hour possible getting a restaurant up off the ground. The experience of running a business was invaluable and gave me so much more than qualifications alone ever could. I’m therefore always the champion of the underdog in many interviews that I’ve sat in over the years.  Note to self- those with the best qualifications don’t always cut it in the classroom!

I want to be
A leader that can delegate
Allan Fuller (an absolute gentleman and one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting)  the Head who appointed me in my current role, was very modest with regards to his success. He said to me on more than one occasion “Jane- I’m only successful because of the appointments I’ve made and the fact that I just let people get on with it.” I personally think his success was down to much more than just this but I always remember his words and often see the result when you allow others to take responsibility and fly but always be there to catch them if they need you and things don’t quite go according to plan. Note to self- look for opportunities to delegate. There are many keen members of staff looking for an opportunity to learn and develop themselves.

I want to be
A leader that is all inclusive
I want to be a leader that values individuals for their contribution, no matter what ‘level’ they happen to be at in the organisation. I think the best diagrammatical representations are those which spread out like the solar system, with everyone orbiting the same common goal of improving the school.  Interestingly research shows that money is rarely the prime motivator. Instead respect, politeness (please and thank you go a long way) and recognition of hard work through face to face conversations makes a huge difference. Seeking someone out for praise face to face can be really rewarding coming from a senior leader. I love having the opportunity of saying to my NQTs- ‘ I was really impressed with such and such in your lesson today. Can you share what you did at our next meeting with the rest of the group because I think they’ll be really interested in that’ Note to self- in a busy world ALWAYS make time to genuinely praise staff at every level of the organisation.

And finally…
I want to be a leader that can KISS (keep it simple stupid!)
I love the KISS principle! Quite often the best and the most effective ideas are the simple ones, the common sense ones (you want to make sure a student arrives at your class on time? Then PIP and RIP- praise in public and reprimand in private- simple, but effective. No one wants to be told off in front of others) Keep it simple when discussing developmental ideas- what are the school’s true needs? How can these be developed? Is meeting after meeting productive?  Is a fifteen item agenda manageable? Is it wise to keep your staff sitting there until after 7pm at night? I guess the answer is no. I’m sure it’s tempting to get through everything in the demanding environment that we work in, but I’m of the opinion that ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’  ( let’s crack one initiative fully and embed it before we even attempt the next) Keep it simple- clear agenda, short sharp timings so that staff know exactly what time they can expect to be home or be wherever they need to be.  They’ll love us for this and it will pay dividends with sharp focused discussions. Work life balance is important.  There are so many ideas of what could be kept simple. I’d be interested to hear yours…  Note to self- remember this Colin Powell quote to remind me of the KISS principle “great leaders are almost all great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand’


So for now that’s my thoughts on leadership. I’m sure as I develop even further as a leader (whether it be inside or outside of the classroom) there’ll be other ‘wants’ that I will add to my list.

Jane Rayson – August 2015

The Notebook- What Kind of Leader Do You Want To Be?

Note to self- what kind of leader do I want to be?

So… After getting married in Barcelona and a fantastic honeymoon in Majorca and Santorini, one of my books of choice was Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way. I love his creativity, the ‘screw it, let’s do it’ attitude and the fact that he seems to be just a nice down to earth bloke that’s done really well for himself! He appears to genuinely care about his staff and want to do the best for them. The book in question was absolutely common sense but really made me think hard about who I am as a leader, whether it be in the classroom leading my students to become all that they can or leading staff.  The purpose of this post is to share my reflections with you and hopefully prompt you to think about what kind of leader you want to be. I’m sure that like me many of you have had the pleasure of working alongside some truly inspirational leaders. Maybe some of you have worked with leaders that have made you think ‘well that’s taught me a lesson of how not to lead people!’ I’m also sure at one time or another, maybe not now but in the future, your experiences will make you think about the kind of leader you really can be… (Ps- as there’s so much to think about, I’ll post my thoughts in 2 parts over a few weeks)

wedding pic
Part 1-
I want to be…
A leader that listens
Richard Branson talks quite a lot about this in his book. It might sound quite straight forward but do you really listen? You may sit there and nod your head, but how do you show your students and staff that you truly are listening? If they tell you something that’s uncomfortable to hear, do you ignore this or pursue it further and really work to do something about it?  Many times, I’ve heard about or seen leaders that surround themselves with ‘yes’ people who will tell them what they want to hear, or shield them from the harsh realities. If you’re not open to all feedback, does that make you an effective leader? I want staff and students to challenge me (in the nicest possible way) and I’d hate to think that I had my head buried in the sand because I wasn’t truly listening. Listening really well is a complex skill as it often involves reading between the lines and perhaps working out what staff are really trying to tell you. Note to self- listen to staff at all levels of the organisation and really work to respond to what they say.

I want to be
A leader that can own up to mistakes and accept responsibilities
I think if you’re truly comfortable in your own skin you can do this easily. Everyone makes mistakes. We tell our students every day that the best learning comes from failing, from making mistakes, so why do many leaders find it difficult to do this? It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact it’s a sign of strength to stand up there and say ‘do you know what. I didn’t get this quite right this time. I’ve listened to feedback and this is the way I’m proposing moving forward with this’ Leading a whole school approach to teaching and learning has meant that I’ve had to do this on several occasions and for me it felt right, rather than blunder down a path that was going to result in confusion for too many staff. On other occasions I’ve been honest with myself and my students that perhaps I could have taught something in a better way. Note to self- always be honest.

I want to be
A leader that demonstrates integrity, honesty and trust
Leaders at all levels often have to make difficult decisions. We can’t keep everyone happy all of the time, but I believe that if we hold onto a set of core principles, are transparent in our actions and do what we say we are going to do then we are half way there. Too many times I hear about or see leaders making bad decisions because of an inability to be honest. An example of this is the common practice of interviewing staff when they have no intention of appointing them. How demoralising and soul destroying is this? If I wasn’t ready for a particular role, I’d hope to be told that and be supported in developing myself rather than face the daunting process of an interview and tasks that I’m never going to be successful in. This may be a hard message for staff to hear, but if it’s done with honesty, and a leader is known for this transparency then staff will trust them and ultimately no matter how hard it may be, accept their decision. I also think it’s clear to witness a leader who is straight talking and demonstrates integrity, honesty and truth. Note to self- always remain true to yourself.

I want to be
A leader that is accessible
How frustrating is it if your door is always closed or your students can’t find you to get that little bit of extra support with their coursework assignment? How do staff feel when the soonest appointment they can get with you is in 2 weeks time? The key here is prioritisation and delegation. Staff are our most important resource and students are our priority so if we have to stay later or move the diary appointments around to be more accommodating then so be it! I once worked with a leader who would say ‘I haven’t got time now but maybe later’ and I (as well as many others I expect) was left feeling irritated and thinking yes but when exactly! The best leaders I know build time into their week for staff. They go and visit their staff in their working areas (I remember nothing worse as an NQT as being summoned to the head’s office and not being told why!) Note to self- make sure staff and students know that my door is always open.

I want to be
A leader that is approachable
Again Richard Branson believes that this is key to a successful business. He talks very much about encouraging his staff to be open and be confident in being able to share their ideas. He focuses on building a culture of collaboration where everyone’s ideas are valued rather than a culture of fear where instead people are focused on doing the perceived ‘right thing’  Everyone has the right to come to work happy and with a sense of being fulfilled; an expectation that if they have a great idea they will be listened to. A friend of mine recently told me about her idea to get an allotment up and running at her school as part of focus on teaching students about living healthy. She spoke with passion and enthusiasm about talking to her Head about this, knowing that she would be listened to. A Head I’ve worked with used to willingly fund special projects that would benefit the students. Note to self- encourage staff to share their opinions without feeling that it’s a career limiting move if their ideas happen to be different to what’s in my head!!!

Richard Branson
So…. What kind of leader do you want to be?

Jane Rayson
August 2015

The Notebook- How Do You Overcome a Lack of Confidence?

Note to self…

Let’s start at the very beginning ( I’m now going to be singing ‘Do Re Mi’ for the rest of the evening) If you’ve already read the ‘About Me’ section then you’ll know that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. What I haven’t told you yet, is that I used to suffer from crippling shyness (to the point of where I found it really difficult to even ring up the hairdressers for a hair appointment.)So I sometimes wonder how I got to where I am today. My first post is therefore  a little more personal in nature and in particular shares with dealing with a lack of confidence or a crisis of confidence that I’m sure we all suffer from at some stage. So how did I do it?

Paint the Picture of Your Future

The first thing is, I dreamed big. No matter how excruciatingly painful the thought of standing in front of classes or halls full of students could be, for some mad reason it was what I wanted to do- I wanted to teach. I reminded myself of this picture every single day, no matter how tough it got, no matter how much I felt like giving up!

Take Small Steps

I broke my goal down into small manageable chunks which consisted of contributing maybe once in seminars at university and then gradually bit by bit, taking myself out of my comfort zone by completing a drama module, volunteering to present in small groups and making myself strike up conversations with random people in shops or at bus stops. Sometimes I practised what I was going to say for hours on end. Being prepared was key.
Be Prepared to Laugh at Yourself

The next level was to get myself a job in a restaurant where I had to serve people. In addition to this,  I volunteered to answer the telephones in an office I worked in (comedy moment being when my lovely colleagues gave me the number for an aquatic centre and I had to ring up and ask to speak to a Mr C Lyon! Only to turn around to find half the office in stitches and listening to the man on the other end of the phone saying “eee pet. I think someone’s having a laugh”) it was however character forming!

Accept That There Will Be Bad Times

What I do have in bucket loads is tenacity, so there was no way I was going to give up, no matter how many ‘wobbles’ I had.  Sometimes however, it’s actually ok to have a little cry!

Listen to Those Who Know Best

On all of these occasions, I surrounded myself with lovely people who were very patient with me and always believed in me. People who would give me positive feedback and gently prod me to my next stage of development. I had a brilliant mentor in my second teaching job who absolutely believed in me even when I couldn’t see that big picture that I’d painted.

Find a Little Extra Something to Remind You What You Are Capable Of

So- am I cured? Do I suffer from crises of confidence? Of course the answer is yes and I  wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. I still think I’m that shy girl from all of those years ago (my friends just laugh at this) but I guess today’s coping mechanisms are very much the same. Be prepared, practice (I was a great girl guide!) and surround myself by those who will give constructive feedback. Block out the negativity (those people have their own insecurities) And my last little secret?- on those really bad days, where I think I’m totally rubbish at what I do, I dig into a mini suitcase of cards (I’ve kept every thank you card that I’ve ever received throughout my teaching career, from both staff and students)  and I read a few and think well maybe I’m doing something right after all! This is my favourite from Peter which still makes me weep even today…

Peter pic
The Future

So while my confidence has taken somewhat of a hit this last year, this blog is an opportunity for me reflect on my journey so far in order to lead me to where I am going.  It’s a chance to reflect on what I have done and can still do. It’s a chance to share my experiences with others who will hopefully benefit from them.  I have leaped over hurdles before and I am sure that I WILL do it again. So- this is my first post, this is me… I’ll be having a break for a month as I’m about to get married and go on honeymoon. But I’ll be back to try my hand at blogging about things such as introducing a whole school approach to teaching and learning, preparing for SLT interviews, approaches to hands on differentiation and hopefully much more…

Have a restful summer…