Review by Mary Hind-Portley

Assistant Subject Leader (English), Hillside High School, Bootle

19 Jun 2021, 5:00


Mary Hind-Portley’s blogs of the week, 14 June 2021

Our guest reviewer, Mary Hind Portley selects three blogs with a focus on improving teaching, leadership and schools, and one on the beauty of knowledge


The leverage of professional discourse


This is the final post in a series of six exploring the intricacies of effective professional development in schools, and a post that captures the essence of her insightful session for ResearchEd Rugby. Here she asks “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”.

Howard argues that much of our professional development is about ‘busyness’ rather than a ‘less-is-more approach’. She presents a thoughtful exploration of the uncomfortable relationship between PD and performance management where, at its worst, the former becomes little more than a tick-box exercise for the latter.

Further, a consideration of the DfE’s standards for teachers’ professional development leads to a rigorously evidence-informed discussion of our options for PD aligned with specific examples. Howard is a well-known champion of teachers’ wellbeing, and in this post she continues to challenge traditional and often ineffective approaches to it. ‘[…] if professional development was a core feature of school improvement alongside a concerted effort to reduce the pace of change,” she states, “then perhaps teachers would have the time and scope to commit to developing their expertise.”

If you want to create a culture where staff are highly valued, nurtured and challenged to be their best, then this post with its extensive reference list – and indeed the whole series that leads to it – will be invaluable.


The school improvement story


Also emanating from ResearchEd Rugby, and also exploring school improvement, this blog by Matthew Evans focuses instead on the role of the headteacher.

All the while entertaining us with examples from film, comics and musical theatre (among them two of my favourites), Evans presents a critique of the notion of the ‘hero-head’. As an English teacher, a headteacher fronting the narrative to explore the hero-head motif from different narrative viewpoints delights me. More than that, he uses the concepts of narrative as powerful tools to disrupt that once-popular notion.

Evans looks beyond the surface of the super-school improver to give other leaders their due consideration – all those bit-part heroes without whom the grand edifices of all educational leaders would fall apart.

But the main point of this blog goes beyond that. Evans encourages us to see school improvement as a series rather than a serial (or worse yet, a single episode). Thus stretching the narrative timescale, he reasserts our role as custodians rather than owners, whose duty is to pass schools on to those who come after in good condition.


Recovery from toxic leadership


An excellent contrast to Evans’s blog about custodianship, this post sees Haili Hughes reflect on her experiences of the devastating impacts of toxic leadership cultures on those unfortunate enough to work in them. Here, she outlines the short- and long-term effects of the manipulative behaviours that characterised a leader she worked for and also comments on the responsibility we all share to out such behaviours and their consequences. SLTs, she argues, are accountable for the behaviours they allow through inaction. And colleagues, too, have a duty to ensure senior leaders know what goes on in the shadow cultures of their departments.

Now an author and leadership consultant, I’m glad Hughes hasn’t allowed her suffering from that toxic culture to cause her light to fade. Too many of our colleagues simply undergo it and disappear from the profession. And still we wonder at our retention problem.

On beauty


This is a blog to rejoice in as we crawl to the end of a hard and challenging term. Claire Stoneman reminds us of the beauty of our work, that despite the barriers and challenges we can face in our schools, our work is about “the power, luminosity and beauty of thought”.

This is no mere esoteric musing on beauty, but an honest and reflective account of the beauty of knowledge and the power of curriculum. It reminds us that our job brings new joys for our students, and that knowledge illuminates them and us in equal measure.

An inspiring read to take us through to the summer holidays.

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