“Interim CEO Review”: Four things I’ve learned from five schools in six months

March is typically the time where we undertake interim reviews for teachers in schools, it being at that mid-point in the academic year between our starting point in September and the end of the summer in August. In that context, I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts now that I’ve been exclusively CEO of John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust, no longer leading a school of my own, for six months. This is, in effect, my own interim review.

It’s a privilege to help create a new learning community: Remember that – every day.

One of the areas in which I try to serve our schools is through taking some of the encumbrances that would otherwise divert them and their leaders from working with children and their families. However, in what is at times a snowstorm of compliance documents, audit schedules and statutory reports, it could be easy to lose sight of the potential power of the collaborations that are evolving to improve provision for and outcomes of our schools’ children. To be at the heart of that is a great privilege, and a great responsibility. Working with colleagues across schools on areas that directly relate to improving the learning experiences of our children is always a highlight for me. On Wednesday we have a session to develop our work with disadvantaged pupils, which I’m looking forward to immensely.

Moving from being a pilot to being air traffic controller isn’t always easy!

As a practising Head, it was more straightforward to work alongside counterparts in other schools in the Trust, as we had shared experiences each day, each term. My role was previously perhaps that of the ‘squadron leader’ who gives some direction to others in the aerobatic display team and flies alongside them. Now, at times, I may feel ‘grounded’ – but I recognise my role is now to assist the fliers through support and encouragement, with the occasional advice about turbulence that may buffet them. I listen as much as I talk, however – recognising and respecting that they’re the ones in the air! I’m reminded of the adage that “leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” Radio silence is very dangerous!

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See working directly alongside fewer colleagues as an opportunity to forge deeper relationships.

There is something wonderfully collegiate about school leadership, where one works alongside a diversity of individuals and teams in a clear and compelling undertaking. Stepping away from leading a school of almost two hundred teaching and support staff, fifteen hundred young people and their parents, numerous governors and supportive community groups to a central Trust team and school senior leaders that is far smaller carries with it mixed emotions. In the last few months, I’ve been able to “flip it” and look at the opportunity to work very closely with fewer colleagues as a real blessing – and I’m learning a huge amount about those great people, about leadership and development, and about me.

Finding ways to share our work with colleagues across the wider system is exciting.

In recent weeks, I’ve undertaken Pupil Premium Reviews at primary and secondary schools across the region (from Belper to Walsall), presented to aspiring CEOs at a regional event in Crewe and facilitated a morning workshop for middle leaders from several schools in Birmingham. Not only do these sessions bring revenue and new learning into the Trust, but they are a great opportunity to spread our reputation further afield, and create new collaborative networks. Having greater flexibility in my calendar enables this in a way that six months ago it couldn’t have been possible, or wouldn’t have been appropriate.

I hope you will excuse the arguably self-indulgent nature of the above reflections. My experience is that many of us who move from school leadership to a trust-wide role seek advice and sometimes validation from others who’ve taken a similar role. I know I’ve personally valued enormously the lessons I can learn from the generosity of those prepared to share their journey freely and candidly with me. If reading this helps anyone in any way, that’s great.

Thanks for reading.

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Mike