Read new CEO Dan Morrow's reflections about the plans and reality of his first 100 days at the Woodland Academy Trust.
Leadership is the synergy between the heart and the head. This is something I will be trying to balance in my first 100 days. In order to do this, I have outlined the four key things I wish to embed in my first term, to establish a strong academy trust that keeps the needs of disadvantaged children firmly in mind.
1. Ask the right questions
I had decided before my first day that I wanted to understand and then galvanise our learning community. Before term began, I held a meeting – which happened to be in a cinema in Bluewater Shopping Centre - with hundreds of staff within the trust with the aim of collaboratively establishing a vision.
To do this, I asked everyone questions. This is what we say we do – do we do that? This is what our mission is – do we follow it? These questions led to deeper reflection, lengthy discussions and self-questioning.
To my surprise, we came out of the exercise not only with a shared mission, vision and values, but ones that were tailored slightly to be specific to each school’s community.
From this, I learned that the ears are the most important sense, not the mouth. Instead of pushing my vision on them, I gave the space for others to collaborate and really own the vision.
2. Unite staff
I strongly believe that in uniting staff we begin to establish a genuine network for change. As with the iceberg analogy (the part we see vs everything happening underneath), behaviours are always underpinned by beliefs. I think that understanding people’s beliefs is the first job any leader of any organisation should do.
A few weeks into the position, I have learned a lot about how we walk the path as a team. I want us to be a family of schools. We’re already very good at talking as an immediate family within our school, but we need to be spending more time with our cousins within our trust.
I’ve created what I call TINs (Trust Improvement Networks) to allow colleagues in similar positions to share learnings and experiences. The best feedback I’ve had on this is an email from one of the leaders that said “last year, every time we had an issue we looked for an external consultant. Now we no longer need to, I’m confident that the answer to every question is already in our trust”
This really buoyed me. We are in schools serving areas where many of our pupils are born into disadvantage and too often there is a window of opportunity that is closing fast. By problem solving together, we can have more impact on those who need us most.
3. Share mission-led stories
I have kept the mission firmly in mind over my first few weeks: by sharing stories and case studies, with emotion, but not sentimentality. As teachers and leaders, we are social workers, carers, nurses and parents, but this shouldn’t be sensationalised.
Our pupils don’t need our pity; they need our support. All too often, the stories we tell as leaders become a tad clichéd, and to avoid this I ensured that mine focused on the impact they would have on the audience, and were removed from my own ego.
That’s another thing I’ve learned in my time – the number one barrier to system leadership is ego.
The first thing I shared was my three biggest failures, to emphasise that we’re all going to fail, and how we can see it as something positive to learn from. This also role modelled genuine reflection as something we should all be doing.
4. Create actions
Inspiration is powerful but it is not powerful enough on its own. Without concrete, specific and actionable guidance, and support it will evaporate into good intentions.
Wrapped around my plan for the first 100 days is a strong focus on listening to what staff teams need so that I can create a support framework that lifts the achievement of all members of our community. It should allow children to believe and achieve, and staff to grow and develop.
From listening, I realised that teachers wanted to get their classrooms sorted before INSETs began, so that they didn’t spend 3 days being inspired and then have to stay late to get the groundwork completed.
First they worked on their classrooms, then worked together with their teams, then reflected on values before any training began. I asked the SLT to help with this preparation; I wanted them with their sleeves rolled up blue-tacking things to walls, not wandering around with a clipboard.
I also created a new email policy based on feedback. We’ve banned emails after 6pm and on weekends. It’s not that we’re encouraging people to not send them, you literally can’t send them anymore: they’ll go straight to drafts.
This is because the leaders who told staff not to send late emails were doing so themselves. They were saying one thing and doing another, and it made staff feel compelled to reply at those times.
I’ve learned so much already and we haven’t even reached that first magical half term. We’ve answered the all-important question of who we are, and we are actively embedding it into everything we do.
I’m leading on who we are becoming, but I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that I’m proud of each step my colleagues have taken, as those steps have been taken with both the head and the heart.