The Emo Crowd.

Every school has one.  They like to pretend they’re cool.  They’re just like you.  Only they like being different.  They like the power they feel from having a different title to an ‘ordinary’ teacher.  But you don’t understand.  You have no idea what it’s like to be them.  They try to blend in with each other.  They don’t like to stand out and be noticed.  Just follow the crowd, do as the other emos are doing, there’s solidarity if we’re all in this together, right?!  They hide behind the hair dragging over their face, pretending they don’t have their own views.  In the rarest of times they do provide their view, they make sure it follows the same chord structure and passionless ways as the others.  Heaven forbid they stand out.

Middle leadership. You know them.  They’re the emo crowd.  They want to be different to the teachers.  Is it the power?  The title? The TLR? The money?  The adoration?  Probably a culmination of many.  But they don’t really want the responsibility.  Or to be recognised as too different.  And they don’t want to be fully accountable.  If I can hide then I can’t be held responsible.  Children didn’t make progress?  Well, that’s because….  Excuse after excuse.  Where’s the accountability?  Where’s the sticking your neck on the line?  But most importantly of all – how did you not notice throughout the year?  

As senior leadership this is our problem.  Too often heavy metal fans tolerate emos.  They may snigger behind their backs about their clothes and their hair. But don’t voice their dislike.  And that’s where the problem lies.  By tolerating emos, with their bland music and their ‘hide behind my hair and pretend the world isn’t happening’ attitude, the heavy metal leadership is being negligent.  Yes, emos should be taking accountability, but if heavy metal leadership isn’t willing to pig squeal, make themselves heard, and actually hold the emos to account, then they have no right to complain when responsibility isn’t taken.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Governors

Governors. They are a vital piece of any school and should, according to law, ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’. Many would agree that they should provide the support and challenge the head teacher needs to question their practice, to ensure they are doing the best job they can for every pupil within their care, plus governing bodies are the key strategic decision making body in every school. But what does this look like in your school? And what type of governing body is best? Or most effective? Where do your governors sit within your ‘band’? And how do you feel about that?

Groupies?
Are your Governors like your groupies? Do they love everything you say and love everything you do? They listen attentively in meetings, nodding enthusiastically at all your suggestions, fawning over you and your brilliance. However flattered you are by these governors, nonetheless the issue is that they will never challenge you. Their remit, as governors, should be to hold the head teacher to account, for the educational performance of both the school and it’s pupils. But surely this is impossible if they will never question your reasons, your aims or the purpose of what you are doing. They need to be monitoring and it is they that are ultimately accountable for your practice and performance, so if they are only nodding, agreeing and screaming their approval at your every move and decision, where is the rigour? The answer is that it’s not there, and therein lies your problem. As a senior leader you have a duty to ensure and maintain high standards of teaching and learning, and your governors have a duty to ensure you do. Groupies hardly require the necessary skills and commitment to improvement and performance, they are purely ultimate fans. Let’s hope they don’t take their bras off and throw them across the meeting room.

Roadies?
They work for you. Subtle shift here. You tell them what to do and they feel obliged that is what they have to do. They lug about the heavy stuff. They take the difficult issues and they deal with them in the way you tell them too. Is this like when Governors take your complaints procedure and deal with a ‘heavy’ complaint from a parent? Are they simply following your instructions about how to deal with the situation, but bearing the brunt of the dirty work?

Although it’s not just about your control over them, many roadies love the bands they work for; they do the job because they feel they lack the talent to be part of the band, yet yearn to be a part of it. They are loyal. Does this reflect your governors? Many governors respect the education system and hold schools and their leaders in high esteem, finding school governance their way of being part of that. But they themselves are not educators, they lack the skills and knowledge of pedagogy, strategic thinking and day to day operational stresses and demands, and so rely solely on you to give them the direction. Is this healthy? Can a governing body really challenge and be the critical ear needed to ensure the school is on the right path if they are entirely loyal and in awe of the leaders?

They may build a productive and supportive relationship, sharing out the manual, behind the scenes tasks, but do they really hold the leadership of the school to account for school performance? Do they care about the objective data and take hard strategic decisions from this? Or do they just follow direction? Can they make informed decisions without the necessary understanding or knowledge?

Support band?
A support band has its own vision, its own values and its own sound. They wrote their own songs. Yes, they may be fans of yours and they may love your music, but it isn’t theirs. They believe passionately in what they believe – like Governors who respect what you do, admire your vision and in many ways support you as senior leader, however they have their own agenda. They have their own songs, their own plans that they are going to follow through with.

Do you need to be careful here? It may be easy to think that because your governors are nodding and agreeing with what you say that you have them fully on board. As mentioned previously, this lack of challenge may not be healthy, or helpful. But what if they are just your support band? What if, although they love your ‘sound’, they really have their own songs they are singing when they take the stage? Are they going to fully support your aims? Or do they just agree, and do their own thing anyway? They don’t counter your aims and they don’t stand in your way. But they don’t fully believe. They understand the passion of the music, but have their own agenda, their own songs.

Yes, I am sure a support band will regularly evaluate their performance, it’s fundamental to their success, much like that of a governing body, but their measure of success will not be the same as yours, it will be independent.

Backing singers?
Ask yourself – how much do your Governors really support your vision and sing your song? Do they act more as your backing singers? Do they sway in time with your music, but perhaps only really join in and sing along to the catchy bits, to the nice bits. Even then, are they just mimicking and singing along with exactly what you are saying? Clearly they are listening to the message you’re giving, but they just go with the flow.

Or are they harmonising, listening to you and ensuring that what they think, say and do at all times complements your vision, your song? Is there criticality and challenge in this model? Maybe if they’re coming up with their own complementary harmonies they are retrying to bring their own tune to your way. But is this enough to be effective? Are they just trying to show face, to try and show that they are challenging the strategic direction, and decisions, of the leadership team, and really just token harmonies.

Band members?
Your band mates are there to support you. They fully buy into what you are doing and what you stand for. Are these your governors? United you stand as a team and they are there to ensure success for the whole band, the whole school. Without your band mates your vision and sound is hollow, empty and meaningless. They give flesh to the bones of your music, they work hard to see your vision come to fruition and be a hit, a success. They trust you, support you and share your vision and ideals. However, is this really their true purpose as school governors? In no way do they challenge the tune. They play what you ask them to. In many bands, such as Hagar leaving Van Halen, any differences often result in band mates leaving. Is this true for governors? Can they objectively work with the school if they are so involved in agreeing all the time? Do you have foundation governors? They have a specific role in preserving and developing the character of the school. Is this like your band mates? Are they invested in developing the sound of the band together, or do they have their own ideas?

I guess that in this way, the governors are ensuring clarity of vision and assisting the strategic direction, but they are lacking the accountability and the holding to account.

Manager?
Here the power changes. Here, the manager is in charge. The manager tells the band and lead singer, ultimately what they will do. They decide whether the direction is the right one, determine long term strategic vision, agree strategic priorities, aims and objectives for the school and sign off the policies, plans and targets for how to achieve them. Very business like. Very manager like. Perhaps even negotiating, or demanding to get the very best for their band, like Peter Grant did for Led Zeppelin. The manager also takes a share of the success, after all, they create the opportunities. Are your governors like your manager? Do they run the school? Do they have the strategic direction mapped out for you to follow? And is this amount of control this okay? Where does ensuring and overseeing vision, focus, strategic direction and accountability for performance begin and end? Is to okay for the senior leadership of a school to be fully led and shaped by the governors, people who tend to come from a background other than education?

One key responsibility of the governing body is to oversee the financial performance of the school and making sure it’s money is well spent. Like the manager of a band, holding the purse strings, the governors need to oversee that money is well invested in the future of the school.

Ultimately, Should there be an equal relationship between governors and senior leadership? Or is one of the above relationships actually best? As a senior leader, how much control, or power, over ‘your’ vision is important to you, or is really necessary? So what is the ideal relationship? Does it need to be flexible and dependent on the situation and the nature of the need within that context? How responsive are your governors to the changing times, both on a national educational scale, but also the day to day changes within a school? Do they understand the complexities of your school? Do they challenge operational and strategic decisions? And perhaps, regardless of what the law states, do they simply leave the running of the school to the head teacher? After all, that is what they appointed you for! So, where do your governors sit within your ‘band’? And perhaps the most important thing is, how do you feel about that?

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

New Year = New Album

So we’re all back at school. How was it for you? Is it still okay, or is it still filling you with horror? Starting the new school year is a bit like releasing a new album, you have messages for people to hear, catchy choruses for people to sing along to and your own pig squeals to deliver hard messages.

So what if you started at a new school? This could be compared to releasing a debut album. Have you brought a fresh new sound to the school, like Slipknot bursting onto the Nu Metal scene in 1999, screaming at us as they inhaled dead birds in jars, set each other on fire and fought onstage? Or Kiss in the 70s, launching their new, raw, melodic sound and bringing face paint to the masses? Are you radical in your views? Or just different?

Perhaps your reputation preceded you. You may have worked in a local school before, been internally promoted or were previously well known to the area. So how do ‘launch’ yourself? Do you hold tight to the same vision you had before? Or do you step out with a new vision, a new set of values and a new sound? Much like an age old favourite forming a new band, finding new band mates and re launching themselves, like Max Cavelera starting Soulfly after his departure from Sepultura and Ozzy Osbourne leaving Black Sabbath in 1979 to pursue his solo career, you have to decide which direction your new career will follow.

And so you need to question yourself. Do you maintain the same messages you’ve always given – the same sound? Or do you reinvent yourself and go off in a new musical direction? Perhaps it’s your first senior leadership position, if this is your first headship then it’s your opportunity to step out of the shadows and demonstrate your own vision, your own leadership style, your own musical direction. Maybe you will find your musical style still influenced by those around you, maybe you’re the new lead singer in a well established band, like the unknown Ian Gillan stepping into Deep Purple and finding his fame there.

But what if it’s a failure? What if, like Peter Criss, you choose to take the bold leap out of the shadows from behind a drum kit and step into the limelight and only your die hard fans follow? What if, as the new lead singer you bring a new style, a new way of doing things, which isn’t well received? Like Blaze Bayley bringing a new sound to Iron Maiden, you could find the school viewed less favourably, solely down to your voice. How do you react and deal then?

Perhaps you are returning to a post you have only been in for a year. A bit like a second album. How do you develop? Should you change? Did you make your vision, values and messages really clear last year? Did people hear your true ‘sound’? Maybe you exploded last year onto the scene with a winning message, winning fans and admirers along the way, but did they just sing along to the catchy chorus and ignore the pig squeals? Are they going to listen again this year or did they just cling to the catchy, new and exciting thing and now your same choruses fall on deaf ears?

All bands hope they’re not just ‘one hit wonders’, that they are not just a novelty that people will love for the moment, such as Steelheart with ‘I’ll never let you go’, or Jackyl with ‘The Lumberjack’ (who could forget the chainsaw solo?), and then fade into obscurity. So how can you ensure you don’t become that one hit wonder? What is it that gives a heavy metal band longevity? What attracts hoards of loyal fans? And is there a difference? Which would you prefer: loyalty or genuine excitement about your ideas, vision and values? Fans singing the old songs they love? Or people singing in harmony with you? Should you ‘tweak’ the sound, add some new dimensions? Rejig the leadership structure? Rewrite the behaviour policy? Increase expectations of teachers? Set more challenging targets?

What if you decide to change your sound altogether? Maybe you played it safe last year, singing similar songs as the previous leadership before you sang, following their pattern and keeping the same underlying chord structures. Is it possible that you’re now ready to break out and create your own music? You have your own messages, your own vision and your own values, and now you want to deliver them in your own way? Risky. You will definitely lose followers, like In This Moment as front woman Maria Brink showed us, but there is always the possibility you will gain more. And isn’t it worth it to be true to yourself? What if you know your songs aren’t right for the school?

So you’ve been at your school for more than a couple of years? Is it your fourth, or fifth ‘album’? Does this year bring your ‘Greatest Hits’ album? Regurgitating the same messages and songs that have been doing the rounds for years. Yes, everyone loves the songs, or at least they loved the songs. When listening to a greatest hits album are you really passionate about the songs? Or were you once passionate? Is there a fondness for the songs that brings back memories? Be honest, they’re not necessarily the songs that you want to be hearing day after day anymore, you’ve been there and done that. The buzz has been lost. So is it okay for a senior leader to have no new songs? For them to churn out the same messages they have always given, the same strategies and the same steps to reach the vision, things being taken for granted? Yes, new staff, like new fans who buy the greatest hits albums to find out about the band and music, will love the songs as they are hearing them for the very first time, they are fresh and new to their ears, but rarely does a greatest hits album become a staple of a music collection.

So what do you do? Totally reinvent yourself and go off in a new direction? That could be perilous. What if people hate it? And when you’ve done the same thing for so long, it is even more noticeable. You hardly want to make the same mistake as Korn with ‘The Path of Totality’, trying to merge with a different style that just doesn’t complement who you are and where you’ve come from – heavy metal and dub step are never going to mix well.

But not everyone wants to move on. Maybe it’s the subtle shift over time, like Metallica who have successfully changed their sound, as ‘St Anger’ saw the loss of the metallic snare and the guitar solos, met with some criticism, but in no way reduced their impact on the heavy metal scene or lost them any significant numbers of followers. Or maybe it’s like Axl Rose and Guns n Roses, where band mates, or staff, may come and go, subtly changing the messages and sounds, but the lead singer remains constant despite the changes and continues to hold tight to their vision, to no detriment to the music or the success.

Whatever ‘album’ you’re releasing this year, you’ve had a few weeks to settle in, get a feel and decide on your ‘sound’. So how are you going to launch your new album to the masses? No matter what, don’t forget to rock out!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Who is the real leader?

The relationship between the head teacher and the deputy within a school could be described differently within each individual school. This echoes, in many ways the relationship between the main characters of lead singer and lead guitarist in a heavy metal band.

Does the dynamic of this relationship rest upon the individual personalities of the people within this relationship? Are the character traits they possess the deciding factor on how the partnership runs and whether it is a success or not? Or is it rather the stages the individuals are at in their respective careers? Does a head teacher nearing the end of their career hold different expectations for their deputy than a young, fast tracked head teacher would? And vice versa, does a deputy nearing retirement consider their responsibilities in a different way to a young, ambitious deputy? Perhaps it is the aspirations and visions of the individuals that temper the relationship the most. Would the driven deputy embarking on NPQH behave differently within a relationship with their head teacher to a deputy who has been in the same role, in the same school for over a decade and holds no desire to further progress or improve within their role or career?

So how do these different relationships develop and succeed? Is it a delicate relationship, where people walk on egg shells to avoid offending each other, skirting around the real issues and shirk the difficult conversations and discussions that should be held. A relationship which cracks when any real pressure is applied. Perhaps it is more of a tempestuous relationship. Two strong personalities, fighting for their voices to be heard the loudest, sure they are right and unwilling to consider another’s point of view, unbending and unyielding to any other way than their own.


Fred Durst’s blast at guitarist Wes Borland.

Can it truly be an equal relationship? Can there truly be two people whose views converge and meet, who truly agree on everything. And if there was, would this be healthy? Most senior leaders would agree that robust disagreement and discussion leads to the synthesis of new, better ideas and more successful outcomes, promoting higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Dudley Field Malone once said, “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” And as senior leaders wouldn’t it be wrong to assume we have all the answers?

So, what exactly is the role of the deputy head within this relationship? Are they the lead guitarist, whose job is to entertain and enthral with their skills, to show off and perform in front of the crowds and lead the band during their specific, planned solo? But one who also knows their place is to stand firmly behind the lead singer while they do their thing, and know never to compete for the stage? Within a heavy metal band it is rare that there is ever successfully two big personalities. Yes, there are extremely famous lead guitarists, such as Tony Iommi and Slash, but their personalities on stage go no further beyond their amazing guitar playing skills, they allow the limelight to fall on Ozzy Osbourne and Axl Rose. Is this like the deputy heads who are exceptionally talented at their role, yet still know their place is not to outshine their head teacher? When the head teacher is out, the deputy flawlessly takes centre stage, performs to the crowd and with ease leads the band. But only for that solo, as soon as the head teacher returns to take centre stage, the deputy bows out back to the back to conscientiously continue their supporting role.

Perhaps, at times, the deputy head may feel like the drummer in the band instead. They sit at the back of the school, maintaining the steady rhythm for the school, helping to ensure high standards of teaching and learning, ensuring assessment is accurate and rigorous. Teachers, and all staff, their band mates, rely on them to keep going and to keep them all in time together, taking for granted that they will always be there. However, they can often feel overlooked or forgotten. It could be considered a thankless task, being the unnoticed drummer at the back of the stage, whom no one notices, however without them the whole song falls apart. Can you name which band Nicko McBrain plays for? Or Vinnie Paul? Or Mikkey Dee?

Conversely, what is the role of the head teacher within this relationship? Are they the lead singer, all eyes on them? They are undoubtedly the face of the school, the instantly recognisable image and name synonymous with the school’s character and values. But with this comes pressure; moving slightly away from heavy metal it could be reminiscent of the No Doubt video ‘Don’t Speak’, as Gwen Stefani, the lead singer, gets all the limelight and attention to the disgust of her band mates behind. The role of lead singer with a band brings a sense of overwhelming responsibility, they can’t forget the words and cannot afford to be out of tune, off beat or looking anything less than how they want to be perceived, and as such, the pressure on the head teachers shoulders is heavy and can weigh them down. What if the pressure is too much? There are many stories in the news of a shortage of head teachers, but also, sadly, head teachers who couldn’t face it anymore and chose to end their own lives, echoing the difficulties faced by Broken Hope’s Joe Ptacek, Mayhem’s “Dead” and GG Allin. Being the face of the school also brings a responsibility – there is no forgiveness for not being on your game when in the public eye, you cannot be seen to show too much personal emotion, you are in control and in charge, even when you are crying and your heart is breaking on the inside.

Across many musical genres it is not uncommon for band members to leave, or go their separate ways, due to ‘musical differences’, and heavy metal is no different. From the famous splits such as Guns n Roses, Queensryche and Rage Against the Machine, to bands such as Gorgoroth that have retained only one original member while the others have left to pursue different musical careers and Iron Maiden which has changed members like we change underwear, everyone has their favourite lead singer, is this like the head teacher whose style and vision rings true and resonates for some staff but not for others? And then bands like Kataklysm, whose trademark was their fast, chaotic ‘hyperblast’ beats, until each band member left and their style changed repeatedly with each new member, much like the school that finds its vision and ethos being repeatedly manipulated and adjusted according to the new leadership, which asks the question, should the vision and ethos of a school be solely down to the steering of the senior leadership? Yes it needs to be refreshed and revisited regularly, but shouldn’t it stem from somewhere deeper than the select few at the top? Shouldn’t it be more organic and belong to all the people within the community, as it will surely be them that it will impact the most?

But how often does a deputy head leave a school purely because of ‘leadership differences’? Or do they make do and adapt their own vision and beliefs, both pedagogical, and even day to day operationally, to fit with the head teacher’s, so as to work congruously alongside? But is this okay? Yes, by not fully letting go of their true ideals and values they can provide a critical eye and healthy discussion with the head teacher, but can you be the best deputy head you can be if you have to concede to another’s beliefs and don’t remain true to your own beliefs? A deputy head may be limited in how they can perceive and apply policy in their daily practice, unlike the class teacher who can adapt and tailor policy to their own individual classroom needs. Perhaps in these situations a deputy head can learn what they would to do if in full control, as well as observe and learn from good practice, waiting in the wings until it is the right time for them to come to the foreground, much like Dave Grohl, sitting at the back of Nirvana on the drums, writing songs but keeping them to himself, until it was his time to step out of the shadows and rock out as the lead singer in the Foo Fighters.

One last thought on the role and relationship between the senior leaders of a school. Classical symphony orchestras have a conductor in charge, to maintain tempo, bring people in at the right time and to ensure the melody, harmony and all other parts are played as they are supposed to. This is analogous to the head teacher, pulling together the strands of the school improvement plan, ensuring that all staff, pupils, parents and the community are all singing from the same song sheet. But perhaps the subtle lesson to be learned is that within the symphony orchestra it is the lead violin player that is the ‘leader’ of the orchestra, only second to the person standing at the front, and the one who leads pre-concert tuning and the operational and technical characteristics of the orchestra. Furthermore, within this set up, each different section of instruments has their own ‘principal’ to lead their group and play the solos. Perhaps senior leadership should take note of this and rely more on the people within their own orchestra, the teachers, staff and pupils, and give them more responsibility, allowing them to lead the music throughout the school. It could be that regardless of the relationship between those at the top, it is actually the relationship between everyone in a school that creates the real, meaningful drive for progress and harmony across all areas of school life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Extreme Metal Leadership – a radical way forward? *Warning contains swearing

“Extreme metal is a loosely defined umbrella term for a number of related heavy metal music sub genres that have developed since the early 1980s. The term usually refers to a more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style or sound nearly always associated with genres like thrash metal, black metal, death metal, doom metal and sometimes speed metal.” Wikipedia.

A more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style

That sounds kind of exciting, doesn’t it? How can senior leadership be like this? Surely with Local Authorities, Ofsted and DfE producing guidance, documentation and legislation quicker than school communications can come through, and certainly quicker than senior leadership can read, act or forward them, then a more non-commercialised form of leadership would be welcome?

How can this happen? I don’t think this blog post will provide answers. Maybe just suggestions. Is it okay to throw caution to the wind at times and just suggest some crazy shit?

More abrasive
Abrasive, by definition, means coarse and rough. Leadership within an educational setting requires you to polish these skills, to make the ‘abrasive’ messages you need to deliver smoother so they don’t rough people up. But a few grazes never did us any harm as children when we fell off our skateboards. So why do we feel the need to sand everything down and make things smoother and easier for others? Surely by being abrasive we would see teacher’s true mettle, what really lies under their skin. There is nowhere to hide when blood is pouring out the gash in your knee and someone picks the gravel out the wound. Why do we protect adults in the workplace from this?

Harsher
Tell people to just fuck off. So many people who don’t work in schools offer this as an acceptable way of dealing with people who are being difficult, burdensome, or obtrusive. It is generally frowned upon in schools, understandably the language around children is inappropriate, but the sentiment sticks. Why not tell people to fuck off? If they are wasting your time then tell them to fuck off. If they are asking stupid questions that you have already answered, tell them to fuck off. If they are teaching you to suck eggs, tell them to fuck off. It’s quite a simple tool really, although probably best if substituted for school-friendly language. Alternatively, decide what is really important and use a scale such as the following, which may be adapted according to your own pedagogy, beliefs or preferences:

Will it impact the social or emotional well being of the children in my school?
Will it impact academic progress?
Will it improve teaching?
Will it help teachers in a positive way?
Is it worth the money required?

The closer you get to the bottom, the louder the ‘FUCK OFF’.

Underground
This part suggests that the music is far away from mainstream ideas and trends, perhaps so extreme in its ideals, language, content, that it is shunned by conventional life. Is this a combination of the two previous approaches? Perhaps. But how far from the mainstream are we, as leaders, prepared to go? Are we prepared to lead a school in a way so different to ‘conventional life’, and whose ‘conventional life’ are we measuring this by? The same one as Mr Gove? But what if our leadership could be something entirely new, something entirely novel and ground breaking? The magnitude of impact we could have on our schools could be vast as we follow our own path, not just through, but perhaps underneath the murky waters of educational policy and the well trodden path of education practice.

Non-commercialized
This would be amazing. None of those persistent fliers in the pigeon hole, in the email inbox, on the desk about the next fantastic course available, or key note speaker, or research, or lecture, or workshop. It’s always the same turd polished in a different way. The messages are always the same, but someone else has dressed it up and produced shiny resources to sell it. It’s still crap. And if it’s not crap then it’s not new. Non commercialised leadership would be organic. It would come from in house beliefs, pedagogy and vision and it would always, always, keep the children in that school and community at it’s centre. How can one person provide resources and courses that are going to help every child in the country? No contextualisation there at all. Bollocks and commercialised.

A more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style
So, as promised, no answers here. But maybe, just maybe, an essence of how leadership could be. As leaders we know we have to be brave, only making safe decisions doesn’t help anyone, but how extreme do we let ourselves get? And actually, by not being more abrasive, harsher, underground and non-commercialised, are we really modelling the learning characteristics we want to see in our learners and our staff, and perhaps more importantly, are we modelling the way to be brave, bold and how to be a true leader?

So perhaps I’ll leave it with you – how could you realistically try to demonstrate a more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style within your own practice, and how can you deliver this alongside what you already do? Tell people the cold, hard truth more often, but then know that you have put the proper support in place following that conversation? Have a list of priorities and make sure you stick to it? Take what is truly necessary, or you fully believe in from policy and bend the rules, go underground, with the rest? Seek out the support, CPD and advice you know your school really needs, and encourage staff and subject coordinators to do the same, and not be dazzled by the latest trend or resource. Either way, dynamic, heavy metal leadership will forge its own path to ensure the best for everyone in its school.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Top 40 Hits

Teachmeets. Hands up if you’ve been to one. Oooh – that’s quite a lot of you! And what did you find out about? What’s that? New technologies? Really? Or just some really cool websites and apps?

Heavy metal leadership acknowledges that the current trend of teachmeets is ‘happening’, ‘fashionable’ or ‘now’. But these are seemingly relatively quick fixes. They are one hit, or one album, wonders, like todays top 40 hits that will vanish into music history for future generations to turn their noses up to. Unarguably they are fun and a great way to meet other educational professionals from a variety of settings, have a good catch up with friends and can be useful. This post is not trying to say that they do not have an impact on teaching and learning.

Top 40 songs are fun, we find ourselves singing along with them, humming them without realising. Here we are likely to fall into two different camps: those of us who openly admit to loving these songs and those of use who may pretend we really don’t care. Our feelings towards teachmeets probably aren’t too dissimilar from these views, there will be those who openly gush about them, organise them, blog about them, embody the very essence of the teachmeet spirit. Then there will be those who remain cool, might attend sporadic teachmeets and are outwardly cynical of the concept. Either way, everyone gets a little excited by them, the buzz of meeting up with other like minded teachers, hearing about what other people are doing, just like everyone has a guilty top 40 pleasure that never fails to make them smile and sing along. They don’t offend, they don’t have harsh pig squeals or death growls, and they are suitable for all audiences, contrasting the the violative nature of heavy metal that carves its own dedicated followers.

Leadership is complex, vision and ideas take time to evolve and consideration to implement. There a no quick fixes in leadership and there will always be the difficult, pig squeal parts, just as heavy metal is not always an instant hit, or even a hit at all with some people. Top 40 songs can also take little adjusting to, but they grow on you and you find yourself liking them purely for their simplicity. There is no hidden agenda, no political message, just straightforward ‘listen to me and take me home’. Teachmeets can provide this uncomplicatedness. They are full of exciting, new ideas that can mostly be taken back and implemented immediately in classrooms. They have a direct impact on pupils enjoyment, interest and motivation, which in turn can maximise learning in a positive way. Just pick up the ideas and take them home.

Teachmeets inspire teachers to try new things. There are few teachers who haven’t attended such an event and come away with at least one idea, website or resource to tell their colleagues about and to try in their own setting. They shake up teachers own ideas and encourage them to think outside of their own environment, they excite them to think bigger than just the four walls of their own classrooms. If you were to speak to any teacher the next morning in school they would be guaranteed to be buzzing about something that had inspired them the previous evening. But once again, this is less like the acquired taste of heavy metal and instead echoes the charms of top 40 hits, just as Gina G inspired many young girls to wear crochet dresses, or D:ream inspired tartan suits, or the Macarena inspired middle aged men to wiggle their hips around on the dance floor.

But senior leader must ask themselves what is it that really impacts learning in their school? Is it really a new website that allows you to edit a web page? Is it really an app that lets you link a video to an image? What pedagogy do you, as leaders, believe in and hold tight to? Undoubtedly, somewhere within your own pedagogy you do believe in the children being motivated and interested, but are the tools that facilitate this truly what determine learning? Will the skills we learn from the teachmeets of today still be pertinent, relevant and useful in a years time? What longevity do teachmeets provide? Much like a Top 40 hit is deeply loved only in the ‘here and now’, we may remain nostalgic about these songs in future years, but we recognise that they no longer have a place in our current playlists. After the first blog post many of you mentioned digging out and dusting off old heavy metal records, however I am quite sure fewer of you will feel the same pull towards any of the old pop hits in your collections after this post. Yes, you may think fondly of them, and smile at those thoughts, but you would not dream of playing them aloud today.

Fundamentally the question that should be considered is whether the nature of teaching requires what we learn today to be useful tomorrow? Or is that even possible? Is the nature of teaching now that everything is moving at such a rate that what we learn today is naturally redundant tomorrow? The government are doing such a great job of changing their minds regularly, with new Ofsted frameworks and handbooks being produced at least termly and re drafts of a new primary curriculum changing each time they’re released, that no teacher or senior leader is truly sure of what is expected of them to be deemed ‘outstanding’ in today’s transient educational climate. This is where ‘heavy metal leadership’ carves its own path, keeping an ear on what is current and important, but forges its own path holding on tight to what it believes and what it thinks is right, unlike a fashionable top 40 hit that is dated as soon as it is released.

The nature of many primary classrooms with excited, inspired and innovative teachers, is that topics and material are re-planned afresh every term, with new children, new ideas, new tools. Akin to the top 40 which changes week to week and sounds entirely different year on year, these classrooms are brimming with novel thoughts, concepts and original ways of learning. But is this truly productive, or balanced, when considering the full impact on learning, progress and attainment? Is investing so many hours in ‘trendy’ tools with limited longevity in the classroom really valuable in the long run? The alternative, without the inspiration of teachmeets, may be the age old trap of regurgitating the same planning every year, with the same videos, same worksheets, same school trips. Hardly dynamic, much like Finnish death metallers Kalmah, whose sound never changes, never evolves and always sounds the same. But do people still buy their records? Yes.

So where do we stand as senior leaders? Do we encourage continuous innovation, keeping classrooms, resources and tools fresh, but which requires a greater number of hours planning, resourcing and working, and will be redundant in a years time? Or do we allow classrooms to become stagnant with tried and tested, but lifeless and unexciting activities and worksheets? Obviously a balance needs to be found. Perhaps a bare bones overview curriculum, with key knowledge and skills set, that should remain constant year on year, but allows teachers to yearly flesh it out with new and innovative ‘top 40’ ideas.

And so, perhaps as the Christmas 2009 top 40 chart showed us, there is a place for top 40 hits and heavy metal to meet together and sit side by side, and in doing so create a bigger noise about what’s important and have a larger impact on the teaching and learning in our schools.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The heavy metal heartbeat

Every school has a heartbeat. The rhythm that everything within follows, sometimes syncopated, but always mindful of the beat that plays constantly in the background. It holds everything together and everyone relies on it. As senior leaders in our schools, it is our responsibility to set an appropriate rhythm and to ensure that this heartbeat persists.

Heavy metal music is nothing without its rhythm, without the drummer diligently beating out a dynamic and exciting rhythm, impelling the music forwards with momentum and raw impulse.

“The rhythm in metal songs is emphatic, with deliberate stresses.” (Wikipedia)

Emphatic. Forceful. Absolute. Is this not the rhythm of leadership? Is this not the passionate, daily rhythm that we beat out for all of those in our care to hear and play along to? The lows and pig squeals of leadership are tough, plus all the staff and pupils have their own daily death growls to contend with, so for our rhythm to be heard over the vociferous noise blaring out in the life of the school, surely it has to be assertive and incessant? But this rhythm must be motivated by our passionate belief behind what we are saying, as it is this that makes the change.

But it’s the “deliberate stresses” part of the heavy metal rhythm that should perhaps resonate most clearly with senior leaders. The definition of ‘deliberate’ is calculated, measured and intended. Therefore the very nature of the word suggests that we have put those stresses there on purpose; is this true? Quite possibly. How many times have we left planning the inset day until the last minute, despite knowing we should do it for weeks before hand? Taken criticism from a governor personally, even though we understand their reasons for challenging us? Decided on a challenging school improvement priority that will take more time and resources than we have available, in spite of there being other just as significant strategic choices available? As senior leaders we have the power to set the rhythm for our own working lives, as well as for the school, and no matter how much we blame time pressures, commitments, external issues, this rhythm is still intentional. So often this ‘deliberate stress’ is a direct result of our compassion. Most of us are senior leaders first and foremost because we care and because we want to make a difference in the lives of everyone in our schools. We want to help the child who is struggling to come to terms with their family situation. We want to support the teacher who is contending with personal issues. We want to support the family who have recently fled to the UK from their previous country. None of these stresses are even mandatory for us, but as senior leaders we care and choose take them on. But is it this deliberateness of controlling the rhythm, which makes us so emphatic in asserting the very heartbeat of the school?

According to Weinstein (2004) the rhythm created by metal drummers takes on a complexity within its elemental drive and insistency. That is, it is not a simple rhythmic beat the drummer in a heavy metal band delivers for his band mates, but something more complicated, intricate and possibly tortuous, providing the impetus and forcefulness behind the raging music. The drummer cannot sit back and relax, he cannot lose focus or force and he must remain engrossed and fixed on the beats he is delivering beneath the music blaring from the stage.

Elemental drive. Elemental implies the essential, or basic, part needed, implying perhaps, that a leader without drive is not a leader. It is a relentless drive for the very best for everyone in the school that makes effective senior leaders. It is our persistent ambition that persuades people to jump on and be part of the journey towards our vision together. It is our implacable effort and belief for every individual to achieve the very best they can that drives the school forwards. Like a heavy metal band with a bland, languorous drummer, senior leadership without a basic, elemental drive, would fall flat. Without an inexorable drive towards our vision we would find ourselves isolated and extricated from the school and beating out a solitary rhythm all of our own, completely out of time with the rest of the school.

A complex insistency. Complex. Leadership isn’t simple; it involves leading people, both children and adults, who each have their own ideas, opinions and behaviour. A true leader will be able to listen to each individual view, understand (or take the time to understand) these views, elicit their ideas and assimilate them all efficiently and effectively to synthesise a vision, or at the very least, clear operational guidelines. This will never be easy, and someone will always feel ignored, overlooked or just plain hard done by. How you steer a path for yourself and others through this is complex, like the drummer in the band beating out an intricate series of beats, trying to get the whole band to play together in time as a cohesive unit.

Insistency. Never giving up. Often leaders are likened to a dog with a bone. If you have stuck through the complexity, taken the time, invested yourself, worked that hard, why would you not insist? A good leader doesn’t just see what needs to be done, they have a vision, and in order to convince people to jump on your wagon, you need to be insistent. But insistency is so much more than this. It’s the persistence required to ensure the very best for everyone. It’s the constant emails, phone calls and meetings to try and assure the much needed educational psychology appointment for the child and family that desperately need it. It’s the doggedness required in governor meetings to persuade them that yes, funding really is required to secure that project you have planned. Everyday we must find the tenacity to fight with an insistence to deliver what each individual in our schools needs.

But what about when things interrupt our rhythm and the heartbeat becomes weak or irregular? How can we ensure the heartbeat we provide remains assertive and sure throughout testing times? What impact would Ofsted have on the beat of your school? Would a heart attack strike when you received ‘the call’? Like the drummer who feels pain onstage, only the most serious of injuries will prevent them finishing the set and pounding out the persistent pulse for their band mates, it is imperative that the rhythm we set continues to punctuate insistently throughout these pressured occasions.

There are times, however, in school life when it is necessary for the rhythm to cease, just like the bridge of a heavy metal song where the drummer drops out. By the drummer ceasing to play he only serves to emphasise the strength and ferocity his playing gives the song. In the same way, by stepping back and reducing the volume of our rhythm, we give others permission to lead without us, to put their own stamp on the song, but all the while knowing that the heartbeat we have set will come back stronger and more forceful as we count everyone back in together.

If, as senior leaders, we do not set a heartbeat for our schools that encapsulates our vision, and then continue to deliver and provide this emphatic and resolute rhythm, with a complexity, elemental drive and insistency, then we are not working with enough passion. And we most certainly do not deserve success. Just like a heavy metal song would be incomplete and fall apart without its drummer delivering the forceful, driving rhythm, so our schools would begin to fragment and fail without us sounding this heavy metal heartbeat daily for those in our schools.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment