Michael Hartland, Principal of Chase Grammar, is a talented educator and inspirational leader. He has spent the past 30 years in the field of education, gaining his first leadership role as Head of English at Clayesmore School, Dorset, in 1999, then moved via Head of English at Sutton High School (Girls’ Day School Trust) to Assistant Head Teacher at Wimbledon College, a London comprehensive school for over 1200 boys. He joined Chase Grammar in 2016 as Vice Principal and has led the School as Principal since 2018. Michael’s articles on education have been published by The Times Education Supplement, Eteach, Independent Education, Innovate My School, the Independent Schools Association and Independent School Management Plus. Michael is an avid reader and especially enjoys writing the two Chase Grammar School blogs Leadership of the Hart (www.leadershipofthehart.school.blog) and Read to Inspire the Hart (readtoinspirethehart.wordpress.com).
Whether you are a teacher, head of department/faculty (I will use the word “department” for both in this article), or in the senior leadership team, leadership is always about influence, as John Maxwell says. There are as many different ways to lead as there are leaders in this world, but I have five areas I want to explore in this article which will undoubtedly bear fruit if you choose to spend some time examining them for yourself:
- Team Potential
- Competency and Creativity
- Adapt and Intervene
You can’t lead anyone without your own vision of where you are going. You must then “paint a picture” of that vision to those who should be following you. Whether it’s a vision of where the lesson is going, or the department, or the school, the vision has to be both grounded in reality and also stretching beyond whatever your current realities are.
As leaders, we all have to understand our current situation rigorously and perceptively, through data and insight, but also keep an inspiring vision ahead of how it could be better. Too much focus on the present can lead to obsession and maintenance of the status quo (I once worked in a girls’ school where the opening vision sentence was “We are here to educate girls” – it was accurate but completely unstretching so it failed on the inspiration test! Too little focus can mean that no one is going to buy into a vision which just sounds completely unachievable.
Communication is key – through all channels available! Repeat the picture you want to paint in people’s minds so they are convinced you have credibility because you understand where they’re all at now, and they want to follow you, because they are excited about where you can help them go.
If you are not sure what your values are, you will either be exploited by others, or you might find that pragmatic options start to erode your ethical principles. It’s a good exercise to review your values every year, using something like the VIA Character Strengths Profile (https://www.viacharacter.org/). We need to stay in tune with our deepest “inner voice” so that we lead with consonance and integrity, true to ourselves and our ideals.
We all want children to learn, but what do we value about how they learn? Should children learn uniformly, or in a differentiated way? Should more emphasis be given to communal learning or independent study? These are not either/or choices, but they do highlight how the world of education is a very wide world where many theories have come and gone. From your own experience, though, you know what works. You know how to engage and inspire both young people and adults.
What is it about your values that enables you to do this?
In ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins made the point that “getting the right people on the bus” is more important than where you want the bus to go! Appreciative enquiry is an approach that focuses on people’s strengths and potential, and can allow you to dream dreams for others, about where they might be in five years’ time with the right encouragement and guidance. And how powerful a single word or short meeting can be, for both young people and adults!
So who is on your team? How well do you know their potential? Do you trust them with real responsibility that will mean they will succeed or fail because of their choices? And do you allow them to fail safely with projects that will not bring the school down if they don’t go 100% according to plan?
Think back on your own career. How often did you learn your best lessons when you partially (or completely!) failed at something?
So trust your team, if you believe in them, and take a few well-judged risks that will allow them to grow, and you will see your team potential increase exponentially.
Competence and Creativity
No school can run without clear definitions of what competences are required for learning, teaching, managing and leading. But if you only do competence and compliance you will not inspire anyone, and you will only be focused on lapses rather than successes!
We need creativity in education and in leadership! Allow yourself to be creative once a week or so – dream a bit, use a mindmap to generate lateral-thinking and divergent ideas. Some of my best changes to the school where I am Principal have started life on an A3 mindmap!
Encourage others to dream a bit, too. This is linked to developing your team’s potential. Teaching and leading is as much about inspiration as it is about instruction – “education” means “to lead out”, after all!
Of course we must be competent, but the best leaders balance a range of undoubted competencies (and often not a few weaknesses) with inspiring creativity.
Adapt and Intervene
Everyone can get blown off course by events, so we must always be monitoring, adapting and intervening. This is true of lessons, of managements and of leadership at senior level.
What systems do you, your department and school use to regular monitor progress and competencies?
Do they lead to interventions that are actually effective?
Do people adapt when data clearly indicates something is not working?
How do you lead?
The best leaders are at home with being themselves; they have an inspiring vision, clear values that guide their decisions; they have a great team they have helped to grow in trust and confidence; they’ve made roles clear but also encourage creativity to surpass mere dutiful compliance; they monitor how everyone’s doing, including themselves, and adapt and intervene to make effective changes when needed.
Does that sound too good to be true?
Or could it be you?
Collins, Jim – Good to Great
Maxwell, John – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Pritchard, Lori – Appreciative Enquiry