Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Servant Leadership

Image courtesy of the Catholic Herald

I was asked to write something for a free leadership ebook in May last year. This was apparently too long so never got included. I thought it was particularly appropriate in the run up to Easter. This was my tip:

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty; never ask others to do what you wouldn't.

“He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” John 13:5

Some would say an MA in Catholic School Leadership is incredibly specialised and only appropriate for a very small number of teachers and leaders. However after studying closely the leadership model demonstrated by the historical Jesus, I was given a fascinating insight into what Robert K. Greenleaf coined as “servant leadership”, in an essay first published in 1970. Reflecting on Jesus as leader has continually inspired me in all that I do at school.

The defining notion of servant leadership is that the primary purpose as leader is to serve. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he gave an example of how to show great love while doing the lowliest of jobs. It was clear that he was servant first, not leader first. By being a servant, you allow those in your care to grow, and hopefully become servants too.

In this passage, Jesus’ basic motivation was love. He was fully aware of his position as leader; his disciples called him Master and had already shown he was a strong and extremely powerful leader. Jesus voluntarily becomes servant; he wasn't primarily a foot washer, but was ready to do it if required. Finally, he made it clear that it was an example to be followed.

The servant leader is not at the top of the pyramid of power, looking down on all he or she has amassed. The servant leader is at the bottom of the inverted pyramid, sharing power, putting the needs of others first and helping people develop and perform as best they can. Caring can be institutional as well as individual; however big or small our team is, whatever the remit or ‘job to get done’, but can do it with care. If a better team is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, more creative then the capacity to serve must be increased. 

Being a servant leader
  • It’s voluntary – it is beyond your personal interests or interests of others, often for the ‘greater good’
  • It’s using entrusted power to serve others – not mange or simply lead them
  • It’s putting others needs before your own – often through love
  • It’s in word and deed – it is teaching your team to become servant leaders themselves
Questions to consider?
  • Will you, without hesitation, do the jobs you ask others to do? (Cover lessons, supervise detentions, lunch duty)
  • Do you lead in word and action? (Keeping deadlines, marking work, responding to emails)
  • How will you keep touch with everyone that you work with? (Their stresses, workload, pressures...)
  • Who is your servant leader model? Who allowed you to grow into a creative, caring, supportive leader?

Monday, 23 March 2015

"Earning It"

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As many will know, I am a massive Springsteen fan and despite him being worth over $300m, he still delivers 3 hour plus shows, renowned for their energy and high tempo; he still works very hard despite the fact he may be able to 'get away' with a sub-2 hour greatest hits performance going through the motions. For a while now, I have thought that there is a potential analogy with teaching, especially for those who have been in the job a while, particularly at the same school, do you still 'earn it'?

Jake Clemons, nephew of the late, great Clarence, who now plays with Bruce and the E Street band shared this in an interview:

"There are words that he gave me very early on that stuck with me. He pulled me into the dressing room — I believe it was our second show — and he said, ‘Listen, this is really important: you haven’t earned it. You haven’t earned it. You won’t earn it. You’re still earning it. After 40 years, I’m still earning it.’ Every night he goes on that stage, he’s aware. Everyone there has an expectation. Just like it was on day one. Just like it will be on the last day. And you have to earn it and fulfill that expectation. That was huge. What a beautiful nugget that you can hold on to, and really apply it to everything. The moment you think you’ve earned it, you’ve lost it.” [Read it in full <here>]

Do we ever 'earn it' as teachers?

If we reach middle leadership have we 'earned it'?
... Senior leadership?
... Headteacher?

I'm not sure we are 'only as good as our last lesson' and students are, thankfully, generally forgiving. However your status or title, career length or even perceived 'coolness' does not mean you have 'earned it' in school. 

I think this is the importance of reflection. I hated doing lesson evaluations when I was doing my PGCE, I just wanted to get on with nailing the next lesson. However, I now spend a lot more time thinking about when things go wrong. Sometimes I teach lessons which really don't work, or for some reason, I haven't had enough time to plan it properly (welcome to the world of Head of Year...). If I teach a lesson like this, I really try to 'earn it' back with the next lesson. I feel a real responsibility to convince them that I am better than that last lesson, that I do care, and I do want to deliver great lessons as often as I physically can. 

As a middle leader myself, I am not just trying to 'earn it' with students but also with my department and year team. Do I take my share of the dirty work? Am I willing to do the same as what I ask of others? It can be easy to hide away in your office when that end of lunch bell rings. 

This is one of my favourite live Springsteen videos. The 6th song of a 27 song show. A 60 year old man absolutely 'earning it'. Teaching is a physical job, but so is fronting a rock'n'roll band! Springsteen has a fitness regime that he has carried out for over 30 years involving free weights and running six miles a day in order that he can perform to this level. 

Yet (thankfully) we don't need to knee-slide and dive into the crowd every night... although that would be a great way to get through period 6 on a Friday with Y11.

I hope that went I get to Springsteen's age (65), wealth (!?), status, title (THE Boss) and having a career lasting 50 years, that I still go out every day and make sure I "earn it".

Thursday, 19 March 2015

#UKEdMag - "Subject Knowledge: Love, Learn Teach"

I am able to confess that I am absolutely obsessed with my subject. I really love RE and I hope in some small ways this is infectious to my students

This is my confession as I begin my latest article for UKEdMag.

Read the article in full <here>

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Revision, Revision, Revision?

Image courtesy of Artinfact

Revision is a very odd thing in schools. There is a very important question to be asked which should be at the heart of a schools provision, "Who is working harder? Teacher or student?"

I have worked in schools where the following are provided, even expected by students:
  • Revision guides - some handwritten by teachers, some photocopied at great expense to the department.
  • Revision classes - at lunch time or after school, even in the school holidays.
  • Revision conferences - often provided externally, sometimes funded by students, sometimes by the school.
  • Revision skills days - often provided at great cost to the school by external providers.
  • Study Leave
First and foremost, I am not saying these are a waste of time. I am absolutely sure these help students improve their final grades. I think few teachers would want to try research on this and do nothing in the final weeks and months of the GCSE and AS/A2 courses as a RCT. However, I think there some important things to consider:
  • Does the student see their revision guide as being superior to their two years of notes, activities and carefully crafted lessons? 
  • Is the revision guide more a 'lucky charm' than a genuine tool for learning? (I have seen students hugging one saying that "everything will be okay now".)
  • Is it good use of the teachers time to be producing an extensive revision guide? 
  • Are revision classes a substitute for time spent learning at home? (I fear students RE revision entails turning up for 20 minutes on a Thursday lunchtime to 'tick that box')
  • Should teachers be expected to do these extra classes? (I have heard of some schools which pay... the pressure can either come from SLT, colleagues who do it for their classes or students themselves)
  • How useful are revision conferences? (Are they just affirmation for the teacher that they have indeed taught it right?)
  • Do revision classes cater for all the needs of the students attending? (Can you help the student working at a D grade get the C while also helping stretch the A to an A*?)
  • Are revision skills days a good use of budget when teachers in school could be taught how to deliver these with the right CPD?
  • Do we presume that outsiders have a greater effect on our students than us?
  • Are we confident that students spend 5hrs or more revising at home each day? 
These may sound negative, but I think schools do need to take careful look at their provision. Not only from a budget point of view, but also for staff well-being and actual impact on students.

It reminds me of what my personal trainer at the gym once told me, 'most people put on weight when they join the gym as they overly treat themselves for their hard work'. Do our students over reward themselves when they buy a revision guide or attend a revision lesson?

As always, some do, some don't. It's not as simple as 'revision input is a total waste of time', nor it is 'the best thing we can do for our students'. I've got lots of students asking us for our department revision guide at the moment, plus asking me to give up a full day of my school holiday to do revision lessons. I'm just wondering the best response...

Friday, 6 March 2015

Creationism in Schools

Image courtesy of Mystic Politics

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2 NIVUK]

Now Genesis is one of the most fascinating books of the Bible. yet to put it next to A Brief History of Time or On the Origin of Species is erroneous to begin with. For a start, it was written in around 1400BC and it was impossible for anyone to be giving an account of their experience. Additionally, it is widely accepted to be written in a poetic form that dominated much writing of this time. Added to this, early Hebrew writing did not often follow chronological form as today's writing does; it was block logic rather than step logic. Other later poetry was often grounded in history, but that does not mean that the creation story was too. There is whole books written on Genesis exegesis and I will stop here. 

Image courtesy of Schools Week

As Durham Free School closed, some damming evidence was discovered and shared by Schools Week [See <here>]. It appeared that on at least one occasions creationism was being taught in a science lesson; illegal and against their funding agreement. 

Quite rightly, creationism is not part of the science National Curriculum. It has a place in education, but this may be in the RE classroom looking at the variety of beliefs about creation. There is great diversity in all faiths, and this should be fully investigated. Indeed the new GCSE RE will further cover different traditions within faiths. 

Sadly, this story will be used as evidence of the 'danger' of having people of faith teaching in schools and in particular science. It also brings Genesis into an artificial battleground, the arena of "Science versus Religion". I have blogged about this before <here> and I fear it also gives ammunition to those who would close all faith schools in an instant.

There are lots of good people of faith teaching in both faith and non-faith schools, they do an excellent job. This is an isolated incident, so please don't judge us all.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Stop The Madness!

Image courtesy of AV Club taken from the Last Stop: This Town video

At an Eels gig, many years ago, at the Royal Festival Hall, the lead singer Mr E had whipped the crowd into a frenzy. People were on their feet, screaming "I love you E", waving their arms. His reply to calm the lively audience was, "STOP THE MADNESS"! 

This has been the repeated call from a small, but growing, group of teachers in school over the last few years too. STOP THE MADNESS.

This is just some of the MADNESS (read falsities, lies, discredited research...) that still remains in schools, schemes of work, university courses, INSET training:
  • Brain Gym:
  • VAK:

Image courtesy of Systramartha
  • Left Brain / Right Brain: 
Image courtesy of Huffington Post

  • The Learning Pyramid:
Image courtesy of The Peak Performance Centre

  • Thinking Hats:
Image courtesy of TandLHub

Andrew Old wrote a great TOP 10 THINGS TO AVOID IN INSET and these make a few appearances. It's a very worthwhile read <here>. This was indeed published at the start of THIS academic year (2014-2015), not in 2007.

So why, write another blog post on this? It's because despite the absolute discreditation of these things, they still keep cropping up on my Twitter TL and various other professional sources of information that I use. The other day I spent time going through being "the voice of reason" asking people if they knew these ideas were nonsense? Sadly, no one entered into discourse with me, which was probably for the best as I was in a grump and argumentative mood. On first hearing, they also sometimes seem like good ideas; that's why they still exist in some peoples educational thinking.

My interest in "stopping the madness" came when I first came across ResearchEd, which lead me to read Ben Goldacre's DfE paper Building Evidence into Education. If you haven't read this, I strongly urge you do so <here>. He then came to speak at the first Research Ed conference (watch <here>) and the words that stuck with me was the label of much teaching being peddled quackery. By this he meant the pseudo-science found worryingly prevalent in education, often promoted by businesses and training providers who have a vested financial interest. He also meant the way in which teaching has, in the past, not been very evidence based. Tom Bennett refers to it as snake oil (this is a great read <here>).

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

I've found Mark Twain, Henry Ford and Tony Robbins credited with this. Maybe it's another internet-created, made up quote (it just needs an inspirational image in the background, ready to be shared on Instagram; no one ever checks their accuracy either do they?), but the sentiment perhaps is correct. However it does need some further, careful, consideration. If you do do something different, you may get a better result, but you may not. How do you know what will get you a better result? What is your evidence? How do you know?

In December 2013, I was invited to the DfE to take part in some work on EBT (Evidence Based Teaching). This was an interesting evening where a group of teachers offered their thoughts and experience. I had completed my MA and found that the research I had conducted was very meaningful to my practice and I was already considering 'what can I research next?' (and I still am! If anyone fancies funding my PhD, I'm all ears). I chatted to David Laws MP in the lift and he even told me that he "loved EBT".

However the sad reality that was relayed by DfE staff. EBT would be a 10 year project and no minister can undertake a 10 year project... Gove lasted another 8 months and who knows if Nicky Morgan will still be there after the next election. So if not the DfE, then who? As with all the best initiatives, schools and teachers can perhaps do it better than civil servants and those in government office.

I was reminded of this recently when a colleague gave me a flyer in the staffroom with a simple, "You're interested in research, right?". Interestingly it featured Carl Hendrick who I had been chatting to about being a research lead just a few days before over a curry:

Carl works at Wellington College who have embraced the idea of making research useful for staff AND engaging in active research themselves:

Wellington College has launched the first major school-based research centre in the UK, saying that in the future, children should be taught based on what research shows is effective, rather than relying on guesswork, hunches or ideology. [See more  <here>]

Some schools which I have come across that are investing in research leads and active use of research include Huntingdon School under Alex Quigley and more recently Highbury Grove School under the new headship of Tom Sherrington. Perhaps the first I came across was Kev Bartle's Cannons High School encouraging staff to investigate marginal gains? Maybe they will be looked back on as the trailblazers of EBT or whatever it ends up being know as, hopefully just 'teaching'.

'Clinical reasoning' in medicine began in the 1960's after a long period of 'clinical judgement' and an 'art of medicine' whereby decisions depended on individual doctors deciding what evidence, if any, they would consider using to treat a patient. This would be merged with personal beliefs and any number of other varying factors. Clinical reasoning or Evidence-based medicine (EBM) optimises decision making and uses acceptable evidence from well designed research. It highlights epistemological strength and results in only the strongest types being recommended for patient use. It involves meta-analysis, systematic review and RCTs.

I really believe that the mid 2010s will be looked on as a pivotal moment in education. It was the moment where teachers, empowered by the new democracy of the internet, facilitated by Twitter, TeachMeets, ResearchEd conferences / Tom Bennett and Andrew Old curries, said STOP THE MADNESS. 

This obviously needs time and money. These are two things that most schools do not have. Equally individual teachers are, generally speaking, on their knees, all the time. It is hard to find time to read, let alone undertake, research. When I did my MA, I pretty much had to give up Sundays and all my holidays. To undertake research with my current workload would undeniably shift my work-life balance the wrong way (and hence me abandoning my NPQML). However as previously mentioned, some schools are managing to find the time and money as part of a CPD and school improvement programme. Who's next?

Some recent blog posts on using research in schools:

"Why should teachers engage with, and in, research?" by Sara Stafford (Director of Research at Highbury Grove School)
A valuable post that explains concisely, and with diagrams, what a school director of research does and how the school are going to use research to be a 'praxis' that transforms practice by engaging with and in research. Read it <here>

"4 ways to use evidence in education - and 15 places to start" by Harry Fletcher-Wood  (History teacher and Teach First researcher)
Harry gives 4 straight forward ways in which schools and staff can use research, He then gives some links to some great starting points. Read it <here>

"Why every school needs a research champion" By Carl Hendrick, (Head of Learning and Research, Wellington College)
A useful overview on what a research champion is and why they are important; 7 clear reasons are provided. Read it <here>

"50 shades of uncertainty in educational research" by Jane Pettifer 
Some key questions asked and answered about using educational research. Read it <here>

There is also a new Journal for Applied Education Research which looks like it will be worth investigating. It promises "Peer led, classroom focused education research". Find out more <here>

Research Ed: "Working Out What Works" - the website <here>

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Porta Fidei? The Role and Future of Catholic Schools

Image courtesy of ME!

“Door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is the name Pope Benedict XVI gave to his apostolic letter which began the Year of Faith. This ran from 11 October 2012 until 24 November 2013 and was a key part of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, yet also saw the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis.

"Gravissimum educationis", published as part of the Second Vatican Council is worth revisiting on a regular basis by all involved in Catholic education [read it <here>], but was one of the key documents that many revisited during the Year of Faith. This extract should be a clear reminder of the purpose of Catholic schools:

Among all educational instruments the school has a special importance. It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life. Between pupils of different talents and backgrounds it promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understanding; and it establishes as it were a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.

Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools. This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.

So 50 years on, how do we renew and adapt?

Several months ago, I spoke to Michael Merrick about the possibility of getting together some good Catholic thinkers on the future of Catholic education in this country and the vision has now become a reality. 

Read Michael's blog post <here>

Porta Fidei? The Role and Future of Catholic Schools 
Saturday, 27 June 2015 from 10:00 to 17:00 (BST)


This is an academic conference seeking to explore the ambitions, obligations, challenges and obstacles facing faith schools in the United Kingdom. It shall consist of two keynote papers and four seminar sessions, seeking to generate honest discussion and debate in an atmosphere of collegiality and friendship.

We have a variety of speakers - from academia and school leaders, to teachers to public policy experts - presenting papers on themes as diverse as the formation of Catholic teachers, the challenge of secular liberalism to faith schooling, the 'Catholic curriculum', and the challenge of teaching RE in a post-Christian, pluralist society. 

The event is organised in association with the Diocese of Lancaster Education Service.

Current speakers include:
  • Bishop Michael Campbell (Diocese of Lancaster)
  • Professor Robert Davis (University of Glasgow)
  • Professor James Arthur (University of Birmingham)
  • Dr. Ros Stuart-Buttle (Liverpool Hope University)
  • Dr. Adrian Pabst (University of Kent)
  • Dr. Phillip Blond (ResPublica)
  • Dom Antony Sutch (Downside)
  • Charlotte Vardy (Candle Conferences)
  • Mary Clarkson (Labour councillor, Catholic voices, Chair of Governors)
  • Andy Lewis (RE teacher, Head of Year, Brentwood Diocese)
  • Mr Stephen Tierney (Executive Director of MAT - Christ the King, St. Cuthbert's and St. Mary's Catholic academies) 
The event will commence at 10:00am, with lunch and refreshments provided throughout the day. All leftover funds from ticket prices will be donated to Mary's Meals.

Tickets available <here>