Creating Freedom to Inspire Excellence – Howard Fisher

Following on from Simon O’Keefe’s excellent opening article with an advocacy for the school Vision, here Howard Fisher, Headteacher at St George’s C of E Primary School on Sheppey sets out a compelling case for leaders starting with the end point, the destination and identifying how to set your staff free to follow your journey towards Excellence.

Howard also poses a key question for learning here, are we developing resilience in initiative and risk taking or inhibiting aspiration and creativity through reliance?

Recognition of the workforce

One of the most important drivers in a school is its’ team. Obvious you might think? However we often hear of how well trained doctors are, or lawyers, but seldom do we hear about teachers. There are few jobs where you can work with so many people with a degree in the same place, yet often in the rush to ‘follow the latest direction,’ from the DFE/ OFSTED we forget this.

In my school the teachers are reminded of their own education, their own contribution and their own lifelong learning. It is from this recognition that the team moves the school forward together.

Pedagogy is not a rude word!

The profession simply does not spend enough time on the core principles of education, that of pedagogy. Throughout my current school the staff are encouraged to think about the ‘whole’ child, the principle behind the holistic treatment of the child in front of you, and the needs of the family unit.

A happy child learns, an unhappy child does not – simple. Such approaches are visual in my school through the use of play therapy, pastoral managers and FLOs. Our play therapist is Masters qualified in her own profession and writes for Play Therapy UK. In the school we have a dedicated room with many gizmos and gadgets and we rely on the strong lead given by our therapist to nurture the children.

This approach is cascaded through the school by giving time in meetings for her to train our mainstream teachers in the principles of a therapeutic approach to their classroom practice. Dedicated workers in the pastoral team work with the child and the family. Often ingrained family problems surface which all need working through to enable the child to flourish. Hanging onto core values in a high risk environment is tough, but if you get these basics right the learning comes.

Resilience or reliance?

Developing resilience is a core value at St George’s. The national assessment system as it stands places too much emphasis on the reliance of the teacher to impart knowledge. The child in turn does not hold onto this knowledge, as too frequently teachers are restricted in an ever increasing fact based test regime. Here we encourage collaborative learning through a thinking skills approach. The children and the teachers look at their interests, and these, where possible become our curriculum themes.

Resilience is encouraged through the use of Forest Schools, a strong reward based behaviour policy and highlighting success in shared assemblies. Our Forest School helps to tackle childhood failure and build the stepping stones of success from within. I am amazed when I see a child come back from their Forest School session with a completely different attitude to their own learning.

Technology

Do not give the children less than they would have at home! This is really all I can say on technology. You have to stay with the latest trends. Don’t make the mistake of buying 30 of anything; it will be out of date next week. We tend to buy 6 or 10 of the latest gadgets so that we are able to justify the ‘throwing’ away of costly items regularly.

The children of today are born to technology; the children of tomorrow will be born to have technology assimilated within them.

Think about this for a moment: How long will it be before we are swiping for purchases with a wave of a finger or the blink of an eye? Yet too often in schools we use technology as a ‘bolt on.’ We have to prepare our pupils for the real world and however sci- fi this may sound to us now; we must try and imagine the future.

We encourage this here by looking at what is out there now, buying it when we can and making sure teachers are using opportunities to plan for lessons using technology at the heart of their classroom. It is expensive! Governors and key staff have to buy in and you have to recognise the cost of an item may outstrip your entire subject allowance for cooking!

However to restrict these opportunities is to restrict the very growth of the children and their ability to be competitive in their jobs.

High – risk Leadership

Being a Headteacher and now entering my twelfth year is no mean feat. It is hard work. It is risky.

The biggest mantra that I developed early on, from a much missed colleague, holds me to my daily grind, ‘Is it for the good of the child?’ This has helped me over the years to stay focused on the cornerstone of education and the type of school I want my school to be. If your staff cannot sell you an idea then usually it is because the child has not been placed at the centre of their argument.

The skill of a leader is to let your staff fly, but give them the destination early on; that way distributed leadership takes the edge off your days when the latest circular from the DFE/ OFSTED lands on your desk!

Howard Fisher

Headteacher
St George’s C of E School
Sheerness

 

Key questions for thought

  1. Do your staff have a clear sense of their role and expectations in achieving the “destination”?
  2. What do you do to ensure a culture that prioritises pedagogy in decision making?
  3. Is your curriculum giving sufficient focus on the skills they will need for the future?
  4. What strategies are in place to ensure resilience for children and staff?
  5. Is there a leadership ethos of risk – taking to ensure children’s needs are at the centre of everything you do?

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