When leadership gets real...

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: iStock

What’s the result when you combine leadership development with real-life school challenges? Liam Donnison speaks to two aspiring leaders about their recent experiences

There has been something of a sea-change in recent years in CPD for both teachers and leaders.
It seems increasingly well-accepted that effective CPD develops behaviours and mindsets, as well as skills and knowledge, and that real life, on-the-job application of what is learnt, as well as discussion and reflection with others, is essential.

This shift can be seen in school leadership development, through an increasing focus on the school-based project – a real-life leadership project applied to a real-life challenge – playing a prominent part in major leadership qualifications.

Professional development seems to be especially meaningful when it is aligned with the day-to-day priorities of the school. If an aspiring middle or senior leader or head can develop their skills through a project that directly makes a difference to the school and its pupils then everyone benefits.

I asked two school leaders to describe their experiences and while their school-based projects did form part of leadership qualifications I think they demonstrate the importance of linking everyday practice closely to professional development – an approach that could be applied to any member of your team.
Lancashire assistant headteacher Lucy Pilkington used a school-based project for the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) to rejuvenate an initiative to help colleagues adopt new technology in the classroom.

Lucy, an assistant headteacher at Parklands High School in Chorley, had been working on a CPD programme for all teaching staff at the school, designed to train them in the use of iPads in the classroom.

“The programme wasn’t having the big impact that I wanted,” she said. “Staff were attending training but they weren’t really using what they had learned afterwards in the classroom.”

Lucy came up a fresh approach as part of her project. She trained a small team of colleagues to deliver differentiated sessions for colleagues: staff were put into sets according to their confidence and capabilities with the technology. The training sessions were also much more focused, covering four main areas: using the technology for feedback, assessment, engagement and learning outside the classroom.

The revitalised project had an impressive impact on pupil attainment. “We did a small assessment comparing five classes that used technology the most with five that used it the least,” she explained. “The top five improved more in attainment, there was an improvement in the consistency of behaviour and engagement was higher as well. In some of the groups that used it the least some made no progress or lower progress and there were more pronounced behaviour issues as well. It certainly points towards the use of technology creating better achievement and better learning.”

More staff are trying out what they’ve learned in Lucy’s training sessions in their classrooms, with traditionally low usage subjects now significantly increasing their use of the machines.

“The experience was a good development experience because it made me realise that I needed to be much more rigorous about justifying a project and measuring its impact,” Lucy told me.

Francesca Smith, meanwhile, is vice-principal at Beacon Hill Academy, a two to 19 special school for children with severe and complex learning difficulties in Essex. Francesca, who steps into her first headship in September, chose to focus on working with parents to develop holistic progress measures for children for one of her National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) school-based projects.

Again, the project was informed by a genuine need. “Many of the assessment tools really didn’t fit the needs of our pupils,” Francesca explained. “I worked with the headteacher and the rest of the team to develop new, holistic ‘Learning Adventures’ that came from education health plan meetings. It meant listening to everyone involved with the child, including parents, teachers, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

“The challenges faced by one family at home, such as behaviour and a lack of sleep, hadn’t come out before their meeting. It was clear from our conversations with them that their home was not set up to meet the needs of the youngster so we were able to discuss these and work with other agencies to identify a suitable solution to meet their needs.

“This particular parent recently completed a learning walk in the school and really complimented us about the provision and how closely we work with partner agencies.”

Francesca added: “The approach has allowed us to come to a real shared understanding and as a result our work with parents is as good as it has ever been. We’ve strengthened this further with setting up a parent forum – chaired by one of our parents – and sending out regular questionnaires so that we have detailed feedback from our families. This is especially important in this school as a lot of our children arrive on transport and you don’t have the school gate culture where you can talk to parents about any issues face-to-face that you have in many schools.”

  • Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network, a national provider of professional qualifications for the education sector. Further information is available at www.bestpracticenet.co.uk


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