For this month’s blog I wanted to recount a conversation that I had recently with a headteacher, working in a school outside our Trust, as part of a performance management review process I was invited to support. Only a year into post, and with much of that disrupted by lockdown and restrictions, she wanted to update me with her translation of her approach to the school’s improvement priorities into a staff-wide ‘call to action’.
We discussed the responses of staff to change, and the headteacher confirmed that “everyone wants the school to improve”. Whilst that in itself is positive, my challenge was straightforward: It is very easy to affirm that we’d like our school to be better. Parents, children, and community members want their school to be better too. In fact, almost everyone wants all schools to be better. To want anything else would be difficult to fathom.
However, we all know that wanting something and making it happen are not synonymous. I once heard a goal described as “a dream with a deadline” – and we can all appreciate that both personal and corporate achievements need to be focussed on tangible activity or, in short, work.
Work requires sacrifice. In scientific terms, “work” is defined as the transfer of energy through the exertion of a force. Such a transfer comes at a cost. We transfer the energy we have within us to others. To children, to their families, to our colleagues. John C Maxwell wrote with regard to leadership that “a leader must give up to go up.” Talk to any leader, and they will be able to identify with this, and cite examples of the sacrifices they have made on their leadership journey. There is no success without sacrifice.
So, my challenge to the headteacher colleague was to ask what sacrifices her colleagues were prepared to make in their desire to see the school improve. That is the true test of their commitment.
I am truly humbled by the sacrifices so many colleagues in our schools make – daily, weekly, termly – in the pursuit of excellence for their communities. Those sacrifices sometimes go unrecognised, but the impact of them is crystal clear.
Finally, I was inspired to choose this theme (which I think is apt as we look towards a well-earned half term break) by a quotation I saw recently for the first time by the French surgeon and Nobel prize winner from the early twentieth century, Alexis Carrel:
Sometimes the sacrifices made are in self-improvement. They can be the most challenging and yet amongst the most rewarding. Again, I am proud to be surrounded by colleagues who are always learning, always growing, always seeking further ways to improve. They “give up to go up”, and their schools and the children who attend them are better off for it.
As always, thanks for reading.