Tag Archives: teaching awards

Keeping your best talent: lessons from the school playground

Working, as I do, on two sides of the leadership coin, there’s one thing that intrigues me.

I’ve yet to work with a client organisation in which the most senior leadership cadre complains about having too many talented leaders or aspiring leaders across the organisation.  This remains true even now, in the midst of painful down- (or right-) sizing, when the number of leadership jobs available is diminishing.

It seems that talent is in short supply.

At the same time, working with individual leaders in organisations or at my coaching clinic on a Sunday, I meet men and women who are clearly talented and yet who struggle to find the right next job. (Right now, as a result of these kinds of conversations, I’m recruiting members of a London-based coaching group called Kick start your next career move.  If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward this link to them.)

It seems that people with strong potential don’t always find it easy to find a job in which they can truly shine.

If you read my blog on a regular basis you’ll know that I don’t hold line managers responsible for the careers of their staff.  We all have a primary responsibility to meet our own needs.  Still, if you are a line manager to a talented and aspiring leader, I wonder if you relate to the dilemma faced by your colleagues.

Are you worried that coaching your staff will prepare them for a future in someone else’s organisation?

Learning to hold the reins
Learning to hold the reins

You know how it is.  You’ve made the case for a new member of your team, someone who can take some of the load off your shoulders.  Perhaps it took you a while to ask for help.  Maybe it was a long and painful approval process, so that by the time you get to recruit, you’re almost on your knees.

You advertise the post and get any number of recruits.  Maybe some of them look just right for the post, though your colleagues worry that these well-formed candidates are already ready for the next job and encourage you to take on someone who can benefit from some learning in this post.  You do.

You choose someone with potential and you spend time bringing them up to speed.  For a while, it seems as though you have more work as a result of recruiting them rather than less.  Perhaps you spend six months, eight… maybe even twelve months or eighteen teaching them to hold the reins.

Having delegated all sorts of tasks to your new team member, you’re starting to motor.  You are free now to handle an altogether more strategic agenda.  You enjoy stepping back from the detail to plan your forward path.

And then, just as your plan comes to fruition, they leave.

It may be that this is the reality of your situation.  Perhaps it’s something you worry about even though it hasn’t happened yet.  Is it wise to invest so much in support of members of your team if all it means is that they move on?

Building a learning organisation

In 1999, the UK’s Department for Education funded a major piece of research in order to understand what differentiated the most effective school teachers.  It followed hot on the heals of research into effective school leadership which underpinned the design of a national Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers.

I was working at the time for the Hay Group, which carried out this work.  Although mostly I have worked with client organisations in the private sector, these projects heralded the beginning of my involvement in the education sector.  I was Director of Quality for the conduct and analysis of interviews with teachers across the country, for example, as part of the Hay Group’s research.  After I left the Hay Group, I served for ten years as a regional and then national judge for the Teaching Awards.

One year, it was my privilege to observe a head teacher who, already successful in leading her own school, had taken on the headship of a second school.   The second school was in some difficulty so her remit was to raise standards in the second school whilst maintaining standards in the first.  As others before her had already found out, parents’ fear that standards might drop can make them highly unwilling partners in such an endeavour.

Coaching new skills
Teaching new skills

Nonetheless, the head teacher’s approach was audacious.  She started to make strategic exchanges of personnel between the two schools.  A member of staff in one school would swap places with his or her peer in the other school.  Both would receive coaching and both would work with each other to exchange best practice with the aim of raising standards in both schools.  Hers was essentially a coaching approach.

It worked.

Standards improved across the failing school.  Teachers across both schools reported an enriching experience which had built their awareness of and confidence in their skills.  They improved existing skills and developed new ones.  The head teacher had created what some call a learning organisation, in both schools.  Coaching was woven into the culture and practices of both schools.

What “Miss” knew

What did this head teacher know that made her feel comfortable to take such audacious steps?  Two things.

Firstly, she knew that even without any changes of personnel, the school she was taking on had greater potential than it was currently fulfilling.  She had faith in the people in the new school – faith that they could learn and grow.  She also held the belief that staff in her existing school, already seen as high performers, had the potential to learn and grow.  She set out to make the experience a learning experience for everybody.

So far, so good.  But what about the risk of preparing people for a future in other people’s schools?

In truth, this head teacher positively wanted to prepare people for their next roles, whether or not it was in her school.  You could say that she wanted it because this was a reflection of who she was.  She was, at root, a coaching head teacher.

But in case you are not a coaching leader, you might still want to know why.  What thoughts and attitudes did she have that made her want to coach her staff even whilst knowing they might move on?

This head teacher’s approach was the manifestation of her belief that there are plenty of talented people in the world, people with potential to learn and grow.  She knew that there would always be people coming into her school with potential and with an appetite for learning.  In truth, experience had taught her that creating a learning environment for the adults in her school made the school an attractive place for precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit – people with aspirations to learn and to work to high standards.  She had no concerns about losing good people because she felt confident of her ability to recruit more good people to the school.

Room to shine

As I draw this posting to a close, I remember that this head teacher’s school shone like a beacon in her area and was heavily over-subscribed.  It attracted parents and their children.  It attracted teaching and non-teaching staff.  What’s more, it attracted applications from precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit.  I wonder what brand your organisation has in your marketplace, whatever it is.

It’s easy, too, to see that some people also have a personal charisma that makes them shine like a beacon within their organisations and beyond.  These are the people you recruit with confidence, if only you get the chance.

But if you’re not shining as an individual to your current or prospective employers, it doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer.  More likely, it means you don’t know what your talent is or how to describe it.  (If so, please think about joining me to Kick start your next career move.)

And if, as a leader, you want to attract staff who will make a real difference in your organisation, think about recruiting the very people you’d most like to keep, coaching them whilst they’re with you and accepting that, at some stage, they will move on.

Musings at the start of the week

Monday morning.  I’ve been all round the houses this weekend – to a school visit on Friday as part of the Pearson Teaching Awards judging team (and when the visits are national they can be a long way away), to my niece’s Hen Party in Bristol on Saturday (catching up on Friday night with a treasured friend) and then to Birmingham on Sunday to join 599 other singers in our first joint rehearsal of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, which we’ll be performing on Sunday 17th July, 2011 as part this year’s series of Prom Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.

So, it’s been quite a weekend!  I wish I could say more about my school visit on Friday and – because I am committed to the judging process and want to maintain confidentiality – I can’t.  My niece’s hen party was a blast as well as a reflection of so much that makes her who she is (and her parents the ones who have and continue to nurture her).  We have a buffet lunch as her guests – circa 35 assorted friends and family – gather in Bristol before going on a treasure hunt around Whiteladies Road, gathering answers in response to a whole load of clues and ending up with afternoon tea, scoring, prizes and much hilarity.  We get changed for dinner before a boat trip and then supper – a rather wonderful and ample supper – in a Chinese restaurant tucked away somewhere near the harbour.  On Sunday morning I catch the first train to Birmingham to sing.  It isn’t early – 9.30am from Bristol – and it isn’t fast, meandering cross country on it’s way to Brum.  Not early – though it seems like it!  The last few days have involved early starts and late finishes and they’re catching up with me.

Our performance next Sunday will be only the 6th performance of Brian’s Gothic Symphony since he completed it in 1951 and tickets have been sold out for some time now.  Why so rarely performed?  Members of the Havergal Brian Society will certainly protest at any suggestion that it is because this music is in any way lacking.  Rather, the symphony requires huge forces (including 6 – 800 singers, 190 orchestral players and soloists) a venue which can house both performers and an audience, funding and a conductor who is sufficiently audacious (or mad) to undertake to conduct such a complex and demanding piece.

As I travel back from Birmingham after our rehearsal I reflect on those people who are prepared to take on something which others have not – or only rarely – dared.  The composer, in sharing his or her work, faces the unknown in terms of the response s/he may get – a response which may change over time.  What may seem mad to some inspires the admiration of others.  And at the time of creation there is no knowing what the life story of a piece may be, including the life-story of the composer’s own relationship with his or her work.

This is, of course, true for us all.  This has been amply illustrated this weekend as the demise of the News of the World follows revelations whose impact reverberates far beyond the empire of Rupert Murdoch.  It seems to me that many people have their hands dirty right now – the journalists who hacked phones, the leaders (Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson) on whose watch they acted, the police who took money in exchange for information, the police who decided not to investigate, David Cameron… the list goes on and on.  Our actions follow us long after we have taken them.

The response of some is to look around them, seeking to determine what will be acceptable and taking care to be above reproach.  This strategy is utterly exhausting and largely ineffective – with so many people out there and with such diverse views there is always a judge.  And still, it takes courage to do the best we know how in a given moment, knowing that those who set out to judge may have little or no understanding of our aims and intentions.  The more ambitious the aims, the more we expose ourselves to judgement, to possible failure and perhaps, worst of all, to insignificance.  We all want to make a difference.

A perfect day

Monday.  Today I am coaching on the phone.  I am tired after a late night – attending the Teaching Awards’ annual national awards ceremony followed by dinner.  I am grateful for the rapport I have with my clients and for the trust that comes with it:  today I may need to call on that rapport as my desire to contribute balances with my body’s yearning for sleep.  I imagine that it doesn’t do to yawn when rapport and trust are absent.

In truth, the activity of coaching is one I love so that my energies quickly rise to meet the occasion.  I enjoy each call and the added value that comes for the client from working in coaching partnership.  (As I write, I recognise how impersonal the word “client” seems to me right now.  These are real people who place their trust in the process of coaching and in me as their coach as we work together to progress the issues and agendas they are grappling with.  Coaching is anything but impersonal.)

Judy, my sister-in-law is staying, too, and has already asked me if I have time for lunch.  I coach until twelve before walking up to Blackheath where I meet Judy and her son – my nephew – Edward at the Handmade Foods Cafe.  We eat outside in the mild November weather, eating our vegetarian curry which is absolutely divine.

Judy asks me if I’d like to walk down to Greenwich and – since I don’t have any calls until the late afternoon – I am free to say yes.  We walk across the Heath and through Greenwich Park.  It strikes me – as it has done already this year – that the colours of Autumn are particularly intense.  Canary Wharf is beautiful in the low Autumn sunshine.  It really is a beautiful day.

We wander around Greenwich taking in a few shops and stopping at Waterstones (there has to be a bookshop involved) before having tea and (in Edward’s case) beer at the Old Brewery.  I am amused – or perhaps bemused – when I find that our common territory (semantics) combines with my own special interests (emotional intelligence and nonviolent communication) as we discuss the finer differences between embarrassment, shame and guilt.  Is it possible to feel these emotions and still have no regrets?

We walk back through Greenwich Park and I leave Judy and Edward to visit the Royal Observatory as I continue home.  I have time to meditate before they return as well as to catch up with some e-mails so that I can start the day tomorrow with a conscience and an in-tray that are both clear.  I also have time to say goodbye to Judy before she leaves to go back home and I pick up the phone for my next call.

Sometimes it helps to balance forward planning with flexibility in the moment if you are to live in the flow of life and to experience the perfect day.

In the spirit of celebration

What do you do when you’ve topped your career by winning a lifetime achievement award?  Tony Maxwell, national winner in 2003 of the Teaching Award’s Award for Lifetime Achievement returned to roots he first laid down in the ’60s, when he sang and played guitar and harmonica in Manchester as a member of the band The Sink.  Following his retirement from 37 years at St Michael’s RC Secondary School, Stockton-on-Tees, including eight years as Head Teacher, Tony took up the opportunity to appear at the Hartlepool Jazz Club and responded to requests for a CD of his music by recording a disc with the Jeremy McMurray Quartet.  His decision to contribute any profits to the Help for Heroes charity reflects the spirit of public service which is so often seen amongst Teaching Awards winners.

Tony gives a brief plug to this project at the beginning of the Teaching Awards’ national judges meeting, before we begin the business of the day.  Today’s meeting is the culmination of the 2010 judging process.  Judges have read thousands of nominations and visited schools across the country to determine the regional winners for 2010 and awards ceremonies have been held in each of the country’s seven regions.  Judges at national level have selected their winners from the region’s winners and we are ready to share our decisions with our colleagues on the judging panel.  The winners will, of course, be announced at the national awards ceremony at the end of October.

The panel meeting is unlike meetings I have attended elsewhere in my life.  The focus is on the many aspects of regional winners’ contribution that were celebrated at regional level and it’s clear that the national judging teams have struggled at times to place the metaphorical cigarette paper between regional finalists to decide on the national winner.  I experience a rush of fellow feeling when one of my colleagues on the panel shares how he “blubs so much more easily” now that he is older and another colleague describes a moment on one visit when she was moved to tears.  As the meeting progresses the sense of celebration builds around the room and I find myself wondering, as I leave the meeeting, how would life be different if it were in our wider culture to look for the things that are working and celebrate them as we have been doing here today?

I am aware that the Teaching Awards is offering an opportunity for celebration and, in this way, opening up possibilities for a shift both in our culture in schools and in our wider culture.  As Tony Maxwell says about the music he has chosen to record on his CD:  “The world is there to be changed and there is no age barrier to being involved in that process”.

I look forward to seeing you at the Awards ceremony in October.


Making my first visit to Belfast

Occasionally my commitments take me beyond the boundaries of London where I live and mainly work to other parts of the UK and Ireland and this is where I was last week, making my first ever visit to Belfast.

I was there to visit the LILAC Team at Fleming Fulton School, who provide highly tailored support to schools across Northern Ireland to help them to meet the needs of children with various physical disabilities:  to enable access to the full experience of education, to support their achievement in school and to prepare them for life after school.  My visit was one of a series of visits to schools across Great Britain in my role as national judge on behalf of the Teaching Awards.

This was part of a process by which judges decide on the national winner for this year in the category of Outstanding School Team of the Year.  Following our visit we hole up in our hotel, the Park Avenue Hotel, to make our final decision.  I return to London to write a report on behalf of the team.  We will share this with our fellow judges at the end of next week.  After this, it will be under wraps until the national awards ceremony in October.

I am pleased to be able to make a flying visit to the City as a whole with one of my judging colleagues.  Following our arrival and on the way to dinner we ask our taxi driver to give us a quick guided tour of the City.  It is much changed since my colleague last visited some years ago.  “The Troubles” are mainly past and many of the old walls have come down.  Some remain and act as stark reminders of years gone by.

I am intrigued when our driver shows us a place where children still come to throw stones at each other across sectarian divides.  He tells us that he knows they text each other in advance to say that they are coming.  I wonder what needs are met by this strange ritual.  Perhaps they are honouring the past and in doing so honouring their parents.  Perhaps this is the way they have learnt to engage with each other.  Perhaps… perhaps…

I come away with a great curiosity about the city which clearly has a great deal to offer the visitor including and beyond its history of 20th century divide.  I also celebrate the LILAC team and all the other teams we have been able to observe at regional and national level on behalf of the Teaching Awards. 

Teaching Awards: an opportunity to celebrate ourselves as well as others

Today I return from the Teaching Awards’ tenth national celebration of excellence in the teaching profession across the UK. 142 teachers, teaching assistants, governors, headteachers and whole schools came together to celebrate the awards they received across Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.

There were many times when there was not a dry eye in the house. At the national awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, people dabbed their eyes as their loved ones – be they beloved spouses or cherished colleagues – learned they had won a national award. And total strangers were quick to recognise in the winners an example of the profound contribution an adult can make to the current and future life of a child.

At the gala dinner there were more tears as Lord David Puttnam made his farewell speech, more than ten years after the idea of celebrating the best in teaching was first conceived. For some these were tears of loss, for David’s contribution to the Teaching Awards has been immense and he is dearly cherished. At the same time, there were tears of celebration and gratitude for everything that it has taken to turn the idea of an “Oscars” for teachers into a thriving reality.

In recent years it has been my privilege to be a member of the nationwide judging team that supports the work of the Teaching Awards. The judges are volunteers who want to give something back. Often we take something away – from the full heart that is blessed to witness what it can mean to be an outstanding teacher, to the idea that can be converted into something useful for one’s own classroom. It seems that we all benefit from being in the presence of excellence. What’s more, we all recognise the gift to our children of excellence in the classroom.

This weekend, as I often have before, I wonder why some winners find it so hard to celebrate themselves in the way they willingly celebrate others and I reflect on a culture in which we are apt to see a recognition of self as vanity or arrogance. I am grateful to David Miller, winner of the Guardian Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, whose speech on receiving his award shows how much it is possible both to be grateful to others for all they have done and to recognise oneself: more than once he mentions how much the contribution of others has helped him to become “as good as I am”.

Returning to my office I celebrate David and I recognise that he brings something that I would want for every winner of a teaching award, past present and future: the ability fully and easily to recognise what he brings as well as to celebrate the contribution of others. For by loving ourselves and each other in this way, by connecting with the best of that we bring, we open up new possibilities, both to meet our own needs and to contribute to the needs of others. In this way, more than in any other, we make the world a place worth living in.

I wonder, what better example can a teacher offer to the children in his care?

Getting up early for school

“The Teaching Awards provides a unique opportunity
for us to celebrate those who, tirelessly and often selflessly, dedicate their lives to securing a future for the next generation”
Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE

5 a.m. is not my favourite time in the morning.

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. this morning. Perhaps I should say alarms: I have set my mobile phone and, at the same time, Marvin Gaye springs into action. I text Alan (“wakey, wakey”) and then get up to shower and get ready.

Today I take off my hat as business woman and executive coach and put on my hat as judge on behalf of the Teaching Awards. The Teaching Awards provide an opportunity for anyone who chooses – parents, pupils, colleagues and so on – to say thank you to a favourite teacher.

Already, our judging colleagues have been busy visiting schools around the country to identify the finalists at regional level. As judges at national level we have the – almost impossible – task of identifying the “best of the best” in our category, the The Royal Air Force Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Secondary School. Today we make our first visit to one of our shortlisted schools. We meet a variety of children, parents, governors and staff who all share their special stories and celebrate their headteacher.

As a visitor to schools I am often struck by the simple vision, passionately held, that headteachers have: to do what’s right for the children in their care. The headteacher we meet today is no exception.

I am moved when she talks of her own reasons for feeling so passionate about the children in her school.