Leadership is a term bandied around a great deal – usually because we are bemoaning a dearth of true leaders in our national life. Yet leadership is not just about the macrocosm. It is also about the microcosm of our everyday lives. A school community is just such a microcosm. Traditionally leadership as a concept in a school is wrapped around the figure of the Head Teacher. The Michael Wilshaw approach as a Head illustrates the strong decisive leader very well. Top down and hierarchical. I would like to share an alternative model of leadership which has evolved out of our school’s strategic plan.
When I joined my school in 2001 it was a traditional girls’ school. I was at the top of the pyramid as Head supported by deputies and, rather than any sense of embedded leadership, the concept of “primus inter pares” prevailed amongst my middle management colleagues. If we fast forward to 2014, following a series of strategic decisions, the notion of leadership is no longer associated with the iconic Head role. With six schools in the Stephen Perse Foundation (formally the Perse School for Girls) with two schools outside of Cambridge, the challenge is how do we ensure this group of schools retain an identity as Foundation schools? How do we ensure leadership is embedded across our Foundation?
What I have learnt is that trust is critical to empowering colleagues who have the responsibility of either running each school or who have Foundation-wide responsibility. This is not blind faith. Working closely with a colleague offers an insight into how they operate and I see my role as supporting, advising and facilitating yet ultimately allowing colleagues the space to lead.
I have also learnt the value of teams working together in what can be most accurately described as an entrepreneurial way. Some of our most creative sessions as a senior team have been when ideas have been tossed around, tossed out and resurrected in a different form – offering the best solution for a specific issue. The idea is not owned, it is shared. Hierarchy is subverted to empower everyone to engage without fear or favour. And once agreed everyone keenly supports the outcome and acts as advocates. Nivarna? No. This approach encourages honest discussion and views expressed can be disruptive and challenging. Yet the space to have such exchanges ensures that judgement is about the quality of the idea and not the potential irritation of someone challenging an accepted judgement.
Yet it goes without saying that leadership is not the preserve of the senior team. Subject leaders, as the Director of Music told me only recently, enjoy not being micromanaged. He and his colleagues share our vision for learning and enjoy being treated as professionals who are trusted to deliver the curriculum.
And perhaps that is the point I wish to make. In an age where challenging a teacher’s judgement has become part of political point scoring, how can we expect teachers to act as leaders when we don’t trust their professional judgement? Let us not forget, it takes confidence to offer effective leadership and self-belief to work within a team. I have personally witnessed the transformation of a culture where my role only works within the framework of a team. A transformation based on trust.