In this edition we are looking at R to T. Access previous editions to think about A-Q. Each edition gives you prompts for a letter and focuses on one. Use them to prompt your thinking and come up with suggestions that mean something for your school

R = Reflection, resources, resilience, resistance, risks
Regular reflection is the cornerstone of improvement and by reflection I’m talking about more than giving thought to the day as we commute or relax playing a round of golf or lying in the bath with a glass of wine. In a busy world real reflection is about regular, planned opportunities which give quality time to evaluating what has been done, its impact, how you know, what has been learned and next steps. And reflection has even greater importance now. Added to the above we need to be asking, ‘Is there a different way we could be doing this that would have even greater impact?’ – A more efficient and effective way? All schools will need to increase collaborative and partnership working and over the next few months we will all have to be reflecting on how we pool resources, expertise and experience to get maximum impact, build capacity and achieve sustainability.

S = Strengths, strategies support, success
I can’t recall ever coming across a school that doesn’t have strengths, however few. The problem is that there are schools that are not good at recognising their strengths and others that know what they are but don’t know how to make the best of them. Good schools are much better at this and play to their strengths while at the same time tackling their weaknesses. If you watch effective leaders closely you will see that this is what they do well. They make the strengths an asset to the school by early identification, nurture and development. Then they use and promote them to provide a better offer for the children in the school.

New leaders often ask where is the best place to start identifying strengths. I think there are two important areas – teaching and learning, and leadership. Why these two? Because, for children to get quality first teaching every day and have their needs met, teaching must be strong in every stage. This means you have to know where the strengths in teaching are and use the expertise of the best teachers to improve that of others. And why leadership? Because if you are going to achieve the strategic objectives for your school you need the challenge, support, commitment, energy and drive of a strong leadership team and leadership structure. When you have strengths in the effectiveness of the senior and middle leaders you will be confident that your school has the capacity for further and successful improvement.

T = Think things through, training, today and tomorrow
There are times when it isn’t possible to take time to think things through and consider the consequence of any action. In the busy life of the school day you will get on with dealing with a hundred and one things that just have to be done. But this is not a recommended approach for strategic development and improvement. Just as we said schools need to take time for reflection, schools also need time for thinking things through. Believe me that this can save you hours and hours of work at a later date. For example, what if you are about to make a policy change? Let’s say the homework policy isn’t working. What do you do? Have it as an item on the agenda for a staff meeting and then at best send a letter out to parents the following day? Do this and you will face the consequences of parents lining up to talk to you , grumbles and rumbles and a lot of time having to be spent to dealing with something that could have been avoided. Thinking things through would have led you to consider what the change means for children, parents, governors and staff and you would have taken all the necessary steps to ensure they were well informed about why change was necessary and what it means for them. One of the things that separates good leaders from weak leaders is the quality of the decisions they make. Good leaders make good decisions because they take the time to think things through and assess any potential risks. Importantly, once they have thought things through and made their plans they take action. Every leader should have on their wall – Stop! Think! Plan!

As you work through the A-Z of leadership you may be considering different ways of working. Don’t be apprehensive about that, even if it takes people out of their comfort zone. Successfully managing change in any context is a skill that all leaders need to acquire. The secret is to plan well, think your strategies through, be clear about the how, why and what and keep people well informed. Importantly, don’t dither or procrastinate, thinking things will go away. The best leaders are very clear about what needs to happen and why, and then they get on with it.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2010

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education