The trouble with schools is that they are bombarded from all directions, by various theories of education, and educational experts, telling them that ‘this is the way to do it’. This can often result in the values and principles that a school aims to uphold and use to inform its vision, being compromised. This can result in practices, structures and systems not all aligned to the school vision. This is what first inspired me to write my book “A Head Full Of Ethos”. (Available here or from Feb 8th on Amazon and other booksellers)
Yes, this is the ‘blatant publicity for my book’ blog, but I’m proud of it and want to share some of what is in it. I guess the first question you might raise is what makes this book different to the other books out there telling you how to do things their way. And what makes me different to any of the others writing/advising/consulting on educational matters? Not a great deal is the short answer. I’m selling my ideas like any other writer, but I’d like to think there are some differences.
I wanted a book that wasn’t going to tap into the latest flavour of the month or one that started a new flavour (I didn’t want to home in on one particular aspect of schooling). I also wanted the book to develop sustainable practices that weren’t going to date. To do this, I trawled through all my own school experiences focussing not only those that worked but also the ones that didn’t work. I also looked back on the articles, books and initiatives that struck a chord with me. I then went on to look at what all the successes had in common. And why certain initiatives or theories didn’t work.
As a result of this, what I’ve tried to do is write a book about leading and running schools (and departments within schools) which aims to strip things back as far as possible to first principles. A Head Full of Ethos explores the values and principles that underpin:
- our leadership qualities and behaviours;
- our vision and how this manifests itself;
- the relationships we have with each other;
- and creating a sense of belonging that is essential in schools.
The book draws from my experiences in the 7 schools I have taught and led in over 33 years, and although the intention was never to provide lots of off the shelf solutions as I’ve implied above, I have nevertheless used examples from my own experiences that have worked for me. It’s up to the reader to decide whether these are worth trying out. What’s more important is that the reader picks up on the principles underpinning any of the examples illustrated and uses this to develop their consistent strategies when setting out to develop a strong, positive, productive ethos in your department or school.
When I refer to inconsistencies concerning to principles or values, here are a few examples:
|Stated values or vision||Some likely positives||Possible conflicts|
|We will provide inclusive education for all.||A push on differentiation in the classroom. Personalised pathways or interventions.||A focus on interventions for ‘borderline’ students. Setting classes (not necessarily a negative) but then allocating the top sets to the best teachers.|
|Prepare our students for the world of work.||Employers involved in some aspects of the curriculum. Careers talks/conferences. Project-based activities (less common).||Learning focused solely on knowledge acquisition and preparing for exams. A curriculum focused on subjects/topics that don’t exist in working life.|
|Prepare our young people for life in the 21st century.||An emphasis on developing a wide range of ICT skills.||Mobile devices banned from the school. Little to encourage appropriate use of technology. Lessons led in a didactic way by teachers from the front.|
|We offer restorative approaches to behavioural issues.||Restorative approaches used to resolve any breakdown in relationships.||A fixed-term exclusion policy which leads to multiple exclusions each week.|
Taken from “A Head Full Of Ethos”
So, what’s in “A Head Full Of Ethos”?
I’ve divided the book into four sections (the four areas I see essential to creating a positive ethos). Below are some of the questions I explore:
The first section focuses on Leadership.
How you perceive yourself and how others perceive you.
- How do I perceive myself as a leader?
- How do others perceive me as a leader?
- How well do I model the behaviours I want to see?
Self-organisation, clarity and focus.
- How can I pace myself and others to ensure we do things well?
- How do I manage the expectations of others, especially those who hold us to account?
- How do I prioritise effectively and avoid the ‘noise’?
Understanding leadership and how this influences the way you work and relate to your colleagues.
- To what extent am I a leader compared to being a manager?
- What attributes should I look for in my team? Do they complement my own?
- How do I enable others to grow through effective delegation?
The second section focuses on Vision, Purpose and Direction
The concept of vision and the importance it plays in maintaining consistency throughout the school
- To what extent should a school vision be a central feature of school improvement?
- How do we form a vision with a sound rationale which encourages others to believe in it and follow it??
- What is the purpose of schooling and how does this inform the rationale for a school vision?
Forming a vision.
- What would be the vision for my school if I had my way?
- What principles do I ascribe to regarding education and schooling?
- How do we collectively form value statements which support our vision?
Bringing the school vision to life and making sure it stays alive.
- How can I make the vision easily accessible to every member of staff and ensure they know and understand the vision?
- How can I ensure that the vision informs planning and strategy?
- What checks are in place to ensure the school makes progress towards its vision and is not distracted by systems or activities which don’t support or contradict the vision and the principles it upholds?
The third section focusses on the quality of Relationships:
The things we need to know before we can develop effective relationships
- What is the one thing I should consider if I want to remain calm in difficult situations with young people?
- Is my school an unhappy or happy environment, and what tensions do I have to resolve if I am to create a happy school
- What factors influence adolescent behaviour, and why is it essential to know and understand them?
The 5 Ms
- How can we make and maintain good relationships in school? How can we make and maintain positive relationships around the school – as a teacher in the classroom and as a tutor (form tutor, home teacher, etc.)?
- How do we manage relationships when they start to go wrong between student and student or student and member of staff?
- How do we mend relationships that have broken down or move them on in a positive way, when appropriate?
Dealing with the tensions when managing relationships in schools
- If we were to discuss relationships at departmental or senior team meetings, rather than behaviour, how might this change the tone and outcome of the discussion?
- Why might clear lines or boundaries for young people make them want to kick against them but at the same time make them feel safe?
- Why should we never resort to fixed-term exclusions?
Three particular areas concerning relationships
- What to do about bullying?
- Uniform – a necessity or a source of tension?
- How to deal with digital and social media
The fourth and final section focuses on Belonging
Working in partnership with the community
- What are the main concerns parents have about schooling?
- How can we ensure that all parents know about the positive aspects of our school curriculum offer? And if they do, to what extent do they buy into it?
- If our school was to suddenly close for good, what impact would it have on the local community?
How to create a sense of belonging amongst students
- What are the key elements to creating a sense of belonging in our school?
- How will we know if our students feel they have some ownership of the school?
- How can we prevent or reduce the impact of some of the blocks that may arise?
How to encourage a sense of belonging amongst staff and the wider local community
- What can I do to create a genuine sense of belonging among staff in our school?
- How can I manage underperformance but maintain a sense of belonging among staff?
- How can our school broaden its influence so that stakeholders in the community feel a sense of belonging with the school community?
- How does our school ensure that every student can participate in every facet of school life?
- How do we personalise but avoid segregation?
- How authentic is the celebration of diversity in our school?
Overall, I’m happy with the content and I think I’ve managed to write most of it in an accessible way (something you can read at night without it taxing the brain too much), so that it’s not something that becomes a chore to read. The writing of it has been an amazing experience and I have learned so much, even my grammar has improved. Now that it’s complete, I keep thinking of additions that I wish I’d added, but perhaps that can be the subject of future blogs. Or maybe another book if you like this one.
So, if you are a middle or senior leader working in a school or perhaps running training courses for future and current leaders, then I hope you will find this book a useful resource:
- to read, if you are looking to develop sustainable and consistent practices, systems and structures in a school or department from the bottom up;
- to study if you need to take stock of where you and your school or department are on their respective journeys;
- or to simply dip into when looking for inspiration.
I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think, I can take it (I think).