Sunday, 29 December 2013

NPQML National College Leading Teaching - reflections on account of practice 1: Shared values and moral purpose

What have you learned from this account of practice about the way in which a head teacher can ensure middle leaders articulate school values and moral principles – and how they do that?

The school in question is a Church of England School and I did initially wonder whether being a faith school  might mean a greater focus on moral purpose, however, the Head is quick to point out that the school is "informed but not bound by its Christian foundation" and is an inclusive community. Staff and students are encouraged to consider their contributions to society and own moral purpose, something that I believe will be an asset to them both in school but also in wider society.

The Head states that "if students believe the teachers have their interests at heart, they will understand that it is in their interests to behave well, so the teachers will not have to waste time on crowd control. That makes exciting teaching a lot easier to achieve." I would agree that student beliefs and clearly linked to their behaviour. The account of practice does not address the issue of parental engagement though and I would hypothesise that if the school were in a deprived area where the values and moral principles of parents differed significantly from the school ethos there would be a greater difficulty getting students to engage with it.

The school values and moral principles have to be an ongoing and constant part of school practice and even once they may seem to be embedded the whole school still needs to keep working on it as the process is never actually 'finished'. It would be very easy, as the Head states, to see it as a 'tick box' to be completed for the purpose of Ofsted, it is worth remembering that schools have not only an academic responsibility towards their students but also a responsibility for ensuring that they leave school able to function within (and make a contribution to) society.

It is admirable that the school suggest that the SLT should be modelling the school values and moral principles by showing caring behaviour to both staff (considering their wellbeing) and students, as well as placing student interests at the heart of any decisions that are made.  The recognition of the contribution and impact of middle leaders is also interesting. Discussions are held with middle leaders regarding changes (and a consensus is reached) because the Head recognises that one of the best ways for an initiative to be successful is for it to be led by the middle leaders. This can sometimes be forgotten and lead to an 'us and them' culture between SLT and the rest of the school. I sincerely hope that if I am presented with the opportunity to move up in terms of management and leadership I am able to remember the pressures that anyone who is 'just' a classroom teacher faces on a daily basis and that I remember that without teaching and learning (and the teachers that deliver this) a school is nothing.

The whole school focus is set out at interview for new staff who are then given informal mentoring on arrival. If an issue occurs with a member of staff departing from the shared values of the school the Head describes how he would set out the expectations and explain how individuals had departed from them,  he notes that this shouldn't be a surprise for the individual if the shared values have been modelled well enough. This is something I feel would be worth doing if I became involved in the recruitment and retention of staff.

I would agree with the Head that 'shared values' and 'moral purpose' are incredibly difficult to quantify . It is possible to get the 'feel' of a school by spending even just a day there as the morals and values of staff and students are often visible in day to day interactions and in how middle leaders lead and interact with their teams.

What can you take from this account of practice that will help you to articulate through the leadership of your team your school’s values and moral principles?

1. Share the belief that if students know their teachers have their best interests at heart they will understand that it is in their best interests to work well
2. Recognise and remember the significance of the contribution of teachers and middle leaders in introducing and embedding new initiatives

3. Whilst the task of articulating school values and moral principles is never finished it is worth taking a step back and viewing your school from the perspective of an outsider in order to consider whether you (as a collective) have been successful.

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