Diary of a headteacher: Building momentum

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Momentum is an under-used word in education, but our headteacher diarist believes it is an important ingredient for a successful school.

I’ve been thinking about momentum a lot recently. How do we build momentum in schools? Why is it important? How do we sustain it?

I read a quote once that has stuck with me: “The two scariest things in life and business are momentum, and lack of it.” 

This can easily be applied to schools, but I cannot recall ever reading about the application of momentum in education, nor can I recall any strategic conversations with the teams I have worked in previously regarding how we build and sustain momentum in an aspect of school improvement – this is something I have been keen to introduce in my first role as a headteacher.

There are obviously some scientific definitions of momentum, but one definition that I like which applies to everyday life is below: “Momentum – the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events.”

I have reflected on the way in which education has rapidly changed in recent years and considered the effect that this level of reform has had on the profession. Through these reflections, one thing has become really clear to me, in schools we need to focus on getting the basics right and ensuring the way in which we deliver these basics maintains momentum throughout the academic year. 

We can easily become sucked into initiative overload when it comes to school improvement and I have always been very cautious of this – I have always thought it a more effective strategy to keep things simple, not to over-complicate improvement plans, and to focus on the key things that will really make a difference to educational outcomes for young people. So, once we have decided on what our priorities are, how do we generate enough momentum to get them going, and then what do we need to do to maintain this momentum?

I have also reflected on how I have generated momentum, particularly with my senior leadership team. I took the early approach on involving them fully in the development of the School Improvement Plan as I wanted them to have ownership of it and I wanted to use the process of writing it as a way of bringing them together as a team. 

Before we finalised this plan we explored what success would look like, how it would feel and I did this individually with each team member. I wanted them to picture what the end goal of each target would look like so that they held this image of success in their mind throughout the year.

Without establishing this and going through this process in coaching conversations it is difficult to create the momentum needed for each aspect of the improvement plan to be successful.

One term down, and I am pleased with the progress we have made. Together we have made judgements on how each target is progressing and spoken openly about how we can generate greater momentum across the school. Improvement plan targets, like appraisal targets, can often become forgotten about until the time for final reviews, especially if the documentation is not revisited throughout the year. 

Similarly, the momentum of improvement strategies can falter if that initial goal-setting is not explored in detail or if we don’t think long and hard about whether our key areas for improvement are maintaining the levels of momentum that they started out with. 

We talk to students all the time about reflecting on their work and I have stressed the importance with all of my staff that we take the same approach in our work. As senior leaders it is crucial that the key components of the improvement strategies of a school are kept simple, clear and revisited regularly to ensure they maintain momentum and don’t get lost in the humdrum of everyday school life.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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