What a good SLT should try to aim for…..
After many months of deliberation, I have finally decided to have a go at blogging. To start with, I’m going to have a go at trying to add to the debate that has been going around Twitter recently about SLTs in school. I should start by saying that I am a Headteacher in a large secondary school. I do not for one minute claim to have all the answers, nor am I claiming that everything is perfect with my leadership in my school-far from it. The next few paragraphs are about what I think an effective SLT should represent in a school and one in which my SLT try to aim for every day.
If you haven’t already read it, you really should read the excellent blog from @oldandrew entitled ‘ How to be bad SMT’ (http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/how-to-be-bad-smt/).
I think there are many elements to this that we have, at time to time, experienced in our careers as teachers. I sent the link to my SLT and asked them to read it, if only to use as a checklist as to some key things we need to avoid in our day to day practice. This blog looks at, in my opinion, the things that those of us who are in senior positions in school should be striving for every day:
1: Be visible: in my opinion the Number 1 priority of any SLT. Yes there are many things that we could be getting on with and many demands on our time but we have to be out and about. This also includes the start of the day, break, lunch and the end of the day. We have a system in our school (taken from a presentation I heard last year from Ani Magill, HT at St John the Baptist School in Woking) where a member of SLT is on a ‘visibility’ tour every lesson of the day. It is not about patrolling corridors or making judgements on teachers but about supporting colleagues. Wandering round the school dropping into lessons, speaking with staff and speaking with students, is a fantastic way to be visible without being intrusive. You can also assist any member of staff who may be experiencing a challenge with a particular class. We also ask Heads of Faculty to identify particular ‘hot spots’ in the timetable-times where they feel additional support could be helpful-and we make sure we visit these lessons first. Same with the start of the day and the end of the day. We are on every gate welcoming kids into school, checking uniform and talking with parents. At the end of the day we also walk around the streets/shops near the school to make sure that the kids leave quickly and safely. The same goes for break and lunch-SLT are always on duty along with other staff. Being visible and being out and about is a fundamental part of an effective member of SLT.
2: It’s all about people, Part 1: The greatest asset I have at my school are the staff. They work so hard and give up so much time (both in and out of school) to ensure the students get the very best deal that SLT are duty bound to support and develop their professional status. For example, we have kept contact periods for teaching staff without additional responsibilities to 21 out of 25 periods per week. We trimmed our meetings to an absolute minimum. We ensure that the directed time calendar falls well below the 1265 hours required because we must recognise that most staff work well beyond this in an academic year. We try to be empathetic with staff. If someone asks for the afternoon to go and watch their child’s play or Sports Day we will always try and let them go. When we look to change practice or bring in a new policy, our first question should always be ‘what will the effect of this be on those teachers who teach 21 out of 25 lessons a week’? If the answer is that it will increase their workload then it doesn’t go ahead. We also try and recognise achievements and the immense work most staff put in. It is the job of SLT to try and cut away the stuff that impedes teachers in their jobs and, to help do that, we must support our staff at all times.
3:It’s all about people, Part 2: The other great asset we have at the school are our students. They are, in the main, hard working, polite and well behaved. To get to this point, however, takes a lot of work. I was reading some tweets today from the superb Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) regarding the issue of behaviour in school and how it was one of the 2 main issues affecting teachers today (the other being workload) and I couldn’t agree more. Behaviour is everyone’s responsibility but the biggest responsibility for having good behaviour in a school sits with SLT. For the first 2 years of my Headship fixed term exclusions shot up. We set a bar very high regarding expectations about behaviour and we expect all students to ‘come up to the bar’. I have 3 main rules for every student (Try your very best at all times, be polite and courteous to everyone, be proud of yourself and your achievements) and I expect everyone to follow them. If you don’t there are consequences. For example, if you use foul language towards, or in response to, a member of staff you will be excluded. If you are removed from a lesson following a ‘SLT Call out’ (part of a structured, consistent whole school approach to behaviour) you will be isolated for the rest of the day and will have a Friday detention (90 minutes at the end of school on Friday). The main reason we do this is because it isn’t actually about those students who are misbehaving (in the first instance). It’s actually about the 99% of students who aren’t misbehaving and the staff trying to teach them. This may sound a bit trite but we refer to disruptive students as ‘time thieves’-stealing time from other students and teachers because they cannot behave properly. The job of SLT is to support, at all times, staff in making sure students behave appropriately. Interestingly, our FTE fell last year and have fallen dramatically this year. We have not lowered the bar to allow this to happen, I just think the message has got through.
4: Trust and develop teachers: we are all professionals and should be allowed to exercise our professional expertise in the classroom. SLTs should always start with this in mind. Yes, there are sometimes staff who cannot be trusted because they are not up to the job but, in my experience this is very rare. Support and encourage teachers at all times because the overwhelming majority are dedicated professionals who want to make a difference to the lives of the kids they teach. We have just taken the decision to stop graded lesson observations from now on. I just can’t see the point anymore. If the point of observation is to improve professional practice then using a graded judgement system will not do that. Our next observation round will see observations without any criteria sheets, any grades, any judgement statements. There will be one side of A4 that says two things: ‘What went well’ and ‘Areas for consideration’. We are asking staff to choose lessons that they traditionally would not have chosen for observations so that we can improve professional practice. I should say all staff, including me, are observed for 1 x 30 minute slot a term currently and this will continue next term, just without any judgements. It’s not about OFSTED, it’s about having great teachers.
5: Accept that mistakes will happen: one of the things I say to parents is that as a school we always try to get it right for your child but, from time to time, we will get it wrong. We won’t get it wrong deliberately or out of spite, but we will get it wrong. There are 1200 students and 150 staff on site so, from time to time, things will go wrong and mistakes will happen. As a member of SLT you can do 2 things when you come across a situation where a member of staff has got it wrong. You can either help them get it right next time or you can blame them and berate them. Sir Alex Ferguson always stated that he learned more about his team from a defeat than from victory. When something goes wrong or not as well as we would like, review the situation, support and take action and make sure that we improve our school as a result of what we do. Blaming helps no-one.
I would like to point out that this is what I think we should be aiming for. My school isn’t perfect nor is my leadership. Like everyone, I make mistakes and sometimes get things wrong. There have been times in the past when I have been guilty of some of the things listed in the ‘how to be bad SMT’ blog. I do, however, reflect on my practice and, as a result, now try to ensure that I and my SLT, follow the 5 principles above. I am just finishing my 4th year of being a HT (I started in January 2010). We don’t get it right every time but if we hold these points above as reference points for how we act as an SLT, then I think we will be on the right path.