Good schools are constantly aspiring to do better. Hopefully, the A-Z of school life is supporting your pursuit for improvement. This last e-bulletin in the series looks as the final letters but, although they come at the end of the alphabet they are no less important

By now you will be familiar with the idea behind the series. I provide a suggestion for each letter to stimulate thinking and with your teams you can either consider what I say or think up more ideas for each letter which have greater meaning for you in your school.

U = understanding, unique, unusual, unpredictable
Everyone in your school should understand that they are a champion for the children. This means that you need to look at all policies and approaches to ensure that they are watertight in supporting staff to achieve that understanding. It’s about understanding roles, responsibilities and expectations. Leaders can’t afford to have any woolliness in this area. If we want the absolute best for the children in our care we need to be convinced that all staff understand these. If I were in your shoes I would look closely at how staff understand the strategic objectives, that they know the starting and end points for improvement. I would make sure that professional development, performance management, policies, staff communications, the staff handbook and job descriptions all support the expectation of staff providing the best education possible for the children.

V = voice, vulnerabilities, vacuum, vision
Pupil voice, staff voice, parent voice. You could be forgiven for thinking that every voice is being heard except for yours. But voices do matter. Listen to voices at a football match all chanting and singing at the top of their voices – importantly all chanting the same thing and all offering support (most of the time). How close do the voices in your school match your intentions, ambitions and vision for the school? The most successful way of taking a school forward is to listen to what people are saying and then work with them to achieve a way forward that means everybody feels they have contributed, been listened to and are making a difference.

W = wobbling walls, wonderful, weaknesses, what works well
How wobbly are the walls in your school? ‘What do you mean?’ I hear you ask. Many schools are like fortresses. The drawbridge is up and they defend their position with determination. They work alone, look internally for improvement and have leaders who rarely mix with their colleagues and are seldom seen at events, courses and briefings. This is an unsustainable position. School walls are going to have to be like jelly. Education policy will require schools to work with other schools – partnership working will be commonplace. If you are a school that is not already working with other schools on common areas for improvement, sharing expertise and pooling resources you need to be thinking and planning for this. Increasingly, we are seeing schools led by an executive headteacher and more schools federating. These will be growing rapidly in number over the next few years. Think to the future and think partnership working.

X = extra mile, extra special, extraordinary, extreme
When did you last go the extra mile or ask your staff to go the extra mile? What does going the extra mile mean in your school? I first came across someone going the extra mile over 20 years ago. My young son had hearing problems and his year 1 teacher gave up break times to help him practise his sounds. No one asked her to do this; she took no credit but just quietly got on with it so that he could make progress. I’m not sure that my now grown up son will remember this teacher but I have never forgotten her or her unselfish determination to help the children do the best they can do. It’s really important that as a leader you know and acknowledge when staff are going the extra mile. Go on, go round your school tomorrow – who is going the extra mile and how will you acknowledge it?

Y = yesterday, yearn, yes
One of the things that new leaders have to learn to do is dealing with the past. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it was, there will be those who will always be keen to tell you how good everything was and how well it worked. No doubt there will be a nugget of truth in what they say but there could also be an element of not wanting things to change. Don’t be too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you take up a new post. Instead learn from what has previously happened and decide how you can plan for the future. Don’t let ‘what happened previously’ get in the way, but it can’t be ignored and will need to be the starting point to take the school forward. Ignore it at your peril.

Z = zzzz…
School leaders are the glue that hold a school together. You need rest and you need to know when to switch off and recharge your batteries. You wouldn’t expect the staff to work through a holiday so don’t demand it of yourself. Enjoy the summer break. Do things you have always wanted to do; spend time with friends and family and relax – enjoy. You will feel the better for it!

So we have reached the end. We have gone from attention to detail to knowing when to switch off and relax. By now you will have reflected, evaluated and planned again. Take from the series anything and everything that can help you. Use your diagnosis to prescribe the right treatment for your school and just like it says on the bottle, ‘finish the treatment’. This means completing what you set out to do. Keep on the right path and don’t be distracted. That way, you will get the results you want – good luck!

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

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