Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Brave leadership

It seems I have volunteered myself to speak on this topic at the upcoming teach meet London event on 11th December at Greig City Academy. So I suppose I had better give some thought to it. I have lots of thoughts but stringing them into something coherent that only takes 7 minutes to say is going to take some preparation! The idea of me speaking for 7 minutes and being succinct produced what can only be described as a guffaw from husband! He has a point. I am not naturally succinct.

This is a point I need to get in somehow, read your audience. The lead inspector in our very recent Ofsted was a neat, methodical, succinct person. This was obvious in the first ten minutes. My anecdotal, passionate, heart on sleeve default style would have been disastrous! I had to stick to point and stay on message. It was essential to be sharp and clear.

Apologies at this point, this is not going to be a succinct, sharp blog post! I am gathering my thoughts in a foggy/bloggy cloud so that I can sift through them. Constructive feedback would be much appreciated!

I suppose that sharpness was brave, I know I'm not very good at it and it would have been more my comfort zone to be anecdotal. But it's essential to sell your school and there is a narrow window sometimes.

To speak at all at a large event would have been literally inconceivable to any of my friends and family when I was very young. I was elective mute until around the age of 5 although I could speak very well from the age of 2. I wold only speak to my mum and then only behind closed doors. At one point my dad used to go down the road to the phone box and ring me to say goodnight. I would speak to him on the phone!

I continued to be painfully shy throughout my school life. I had great friends, many of whom are still a part of my life and was never bullied. My school days, particularly my time at Dover Girls Grammar were a really wonderful time in my life. But I hardly ever spoke! Maybe that's why I got on ok with my peers, they could talk and they thought I was listening. I wasn't by the way, I was in my own world most of the time!

I chose to study at my local university and stay at home. Mainly because my dad was very ill by then. I didn't go out but made some good friends with other students who stayed at home. Mainly mature students, which I like to think gave me more perspective than I had before on careers other than education.

Things changed bravery wise when my dad lost his battle with cancer in my final year of university. I decided over the course of the three most hellish weeks of my life that the only thing to do was get on and do what I had always wanted to. Teach, make a difference, change the world in whatever small way I could. It wasn't the time for losing the plot, for falling apart. It was time to be brave. So I decided I would also speak at his funeral. I had just turned 21 and there were several concerns from my close family about whether it would be awful to allow me to put myself in that position. I was the girl who never spoke. It was unimaginable to them that I could ever do it. Mum knew I could though.

I read this:


Dad had his private pilot's licence and loved to fly. Reading it was a blur but apparently I read it clearly. Any time I have to stand up now and speak I know I can do it.

The appearance of confidence, not arrogance but confidence, is one of the essential skills of leadership. The rest of the organisation need to know that you are their figurehead. That nothing phases you. They also need to know you are human though, it's how we deal with mistakes that most often shows our true colours.

I have heard it said a lot recently that selling yourself and your school with your confidence in the first ten minutes is vital. Whether it be parent, community member, adviser or inspector. People said after our Ofsted 'You were so confident.' I know I appeared to be and also, lets not forget the confidence an amazing team of staff gives. Their work and dedication meant I knew what I said would be seen in practice. However, under the surface I felt like an athlete that had prepared for years for a performance and only the performance counted. Bravery was needed to override the fear of failure. To know and communicate through every pore how amazing our school is.

I don't want to make any of this about Ofsted really as it isn't. It's about me having a vision for making a difference 16 years ago. Then working, learning always, reading, meeting and knowing people, thinking...to build that vision into more. Into a school ethos, that is sustainable.

I had a great conversation last week with an artist and coffee shop owner about art as a state of being. Great school ethos is a piece of beautiful art. It's inspiring, it changes everyone for the better and it evolves. You have to be brave to create that and keep going when it feels like you're slogging away and getting nowhere. I read this at prize giving in summer 2 years ago when I was feeling like that.


What Ofsted has given is validation for that bravery. I am going along the right lines. Humility is also very important and brave leadership certainly isn't hero leadership. Anyway, here's the link to the report which I am very proud of everyone for.


If you stuck with this blog to the end thank you! Be brave. Never be arrogant. Deal with mistakes proactively and honestly. Be yourself. Enjoy making a difference. It's the best job in the world.