Seeking to be extraordinary and trimming the hedge : 2016-01-27

Yesterday evening, travelling home after spending two truly uplifting days in London at the World Visible Learning Conference, a colleague and I mused on the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary. To lead an extraordinary life? To make an extraordinary contribution? To create an extraordinary school? To encourage our students to be extraordinary?

Professor John Hattie, Professor Mick Waters, Professor David Hopkins, Professor Andy Hargreaves, Professor Guy Claxton… Extraordinary people, leading extraordinary lives, making extraordinary contributions. Five professors, along with many more leaders in the world of educational research and practice sharing their life work, with an absence of ego, in a grounded, intensely passionate and quite brilliant way. Now, the purpose of this is not simply to pour praise on the extraordinary people we lucky attendees rubbed shoulders with over the past two days, although their brilliant endeavours should be recognised time and again. Rather, I would like to indulge myself by taking an hour out of the day to pour my initial thoughts down on two unforgettable days of learning.

Andy Hargreaves challenged us to ask ourselves two questions. Is the way I lead consistent with the values we aspire to hold for our students? Am I inclusive with adults? He reminded us that our profession is about working together to achieve important goals. He urged us to focus on uplifting those we serve by uplifting those who serve them. David Hopkins emphasised how challenging it is to improve learning and teaching at scale; that it is technically simple (we know what works best) but socially complex. Further, he says that if we are truly driven by moral purpose then you have to work at scale. David offered the concept of Circles of Competence as a way of understanding insecurity. He says that we need to expand our colleagues’ confidence, both physically and psychologically. I love and appreciate the fact that one of the strongest messages coming through across the two days was that teacher wellbeing really does matter, that “it is not just about the kids”. After all, doesn’t Michael Fullan name ‘Love your employees’ as the first of his ‘six secrets’?

I attended a great session led by Kristin Anderson, a discussion on Trust. Kristin highlighted the importance in good leadership of clarity, the practising of consistency (people trust you when you follow through), creation of a safe place to fail and the fostering of contribution. Interesting that Professor Hattie himself, in talking about his current work and his want to share those projects, if offered the opportunity to return and do so (Yes please John!), noted that he would not be sharing the many pieces of work that “didn’t work”. I always find myself returning to Sarah Martin’s saying that learning is a messy business, and that is why all Stonefields’ teams have “messy” large-scale thinking books. As do Bader’s now, I have to say. Thank you Stonefields! Professor Hattie repeated the message time and again that it is the way that teachers think and not what they do that makes the difference. Oh for a scan at John’s messy thinking books! Or should I say his team’s messy thinking books, for he made sure to acknowledge their work, brilliantly led, where Cognition is concerned, by Deb Masters. Which takes me to another fantastic session that I attended, led by Dr Peter de Witt, discussing School Voice. Peter made me stop and think when he challenged us to ask ourselves if we walked into staff meetings with an idea and walked out with the same one. Worse still, are we ‘negotiators’, carrying an agenda into a meeting and convincing others of its wisdom? Peter suggested that true collaborators learn something through the process. Just as an aside, Peter dropped in something that I have taken away as my number one to do thing. He described his effective use, when a school principle, of ‘flipped’ parent meetings. Essentially, in looking to further engage parents he sent out a video message through the school on-line platform and then invited parents in to discuss its content. Come the day, “Standing room only”, Peter said! Brilliant! Love it! Doing it next week at Bader!

So much food for thought. I really must return to the day job now and pay the price of taking two days out! A final word… Professor Hattie, in his simply brilliant and awe inspiring final ‘I have a dream’ address said “I want a system that helps children exceed what they think their potential is.” Hear hear! To that, I would add that, at Bader, I want a team that exceeds what they think their potential is. A team that is extraordinary. A team that encourages our students to be extraordinary. A team that offers the ‘Plus’ in Professor Claxton’s 3 A*s and a Plus. Guy is so right, as skilfully stated in Educating Ruby, lauded by Professor Hattie, that preparing our young people for the world they will inhabit requires us to think hard about what that Plus is and should be.

As we drive forward as a team, drawing on all of the expertise that is around us, I repeat what I stated at the end of the presentation that my colleague Marc and I shared at the conference. As the second part of our presentation, Marc had shared, with great clarity and honesty, his leading on one of our chosen focus areas, learning dispositions. I said to our audience that others in school are working in the same way. Further, that I could see the day when I would be trimming the school perimeter hedge and tending the gardens, with all of these fine people leaving me in their wake. Is that what John Hattie means by individuals exceeding their potential, I wonder? I will settle for that!

My learning? If this is to happen then I must:

    1. Lead in a way that is consistent with the values we aspire to hold for our students.
    2. Be inclusive with adults.
    3. Focus on uplifting those we serve by uplifting those who serve them.
    4. Expand my colleagues’ confidence, both physically and psychologically.
    5. Fully appreciate that learning is messy.
    6. Not walk into staff meetings with an idea and walk out with the same one, nor carry an agenda into the meeting, seeking to convince others of its wisdom.
    7. Buy a really good pair of hedge trimmers.

A final word… thank you for all of the gracious and positive feedback from those that attended our session. Thank you to all of the extraordinary people who shared their life work with us fortunate enough to be present, and thank you to Osiris, Stephen Cox and his team for putting on such an amazing learning extravaganza!

3 Responses to “Seeking to be extraordinary and trimming the hedge”

  1. Peter DeWitt says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. It was such a pleasure to talk with you and learn from you while at the conference. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for a guest blog!
    Looking forward to continuing the dialogue.

  2. Mr Feasey says:

    Thank you for your feedback. Thank you, too, for sharing your work, your insight into school leadership, reflections on collaborative leadership, and student voice. Great company + great learning! It will be an honour to produce a guest blog.

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