Solutions

Solutions: How to lead through inflection moments

At times of big change and high pressure, effective leaders bring their teams back to their core values to motivate them for the challenge

At times of big change and high pressure, effective leaders bring their teams back to their core values to motivate them for the challenge

28 May 2024, 5:00

As education leaders, we are leading in challenging times and in an even more challenging system. As a result, national surveys show that a staggering 40 per cent of teachers express intentions to leave the profession (even more among those within the first five years of their career).

The typical culprits are extreme accountability and compliance pressures. These often create workload pressures that feel like they have nothing to do with tangibly supporting the children we teach.

But what makes the job feel truly untenable is increased demand for all those things we do that aren’t measured or evidently valued by accountability.

Cumulatively, we end up with what I refer to as an ‘inflection moment’, when something needs to change in response to new circumstances. This is the case now, with attendance failing to recover, SEND demand grown far beyond our capacity to meet it, mental health and behaviour plummeting and much more.

Rightly, there are calls for a better-designed education system, but that won’t happen overnight. Indeed, a new government would itself represent an inflection moment, with the profession called upon to deliver reform.

However, there is still a lot we can control here and now.

Our primary focus should be to help our teams recognise inflection moments and prepare them to face these, whether they’re on a departmental scale, at the school level or across a trust.

Put simply, the key is to focus on the next mountain that you, your teams and your organisation need to climb. Shift your attention away from (or more precisely, beyond) Ofsted and league tables, and towards articulating the deep and authentic direction your school or MAT wants to take to make a deep and distinctive difference to the young people and communities you serve.

I refer to this as a ‘small p’ purpose. ‘Big P’ purpose is what drives you individually as a leader, and will determine how you contribute to these objectives personally.

Focus on the next mountain you need to climb

For instance, a MAT I worked with realised that robust relationships were fundamental in understanding the challenges young people faced within their communities. They built an exciting direction centred around the essence of relationships, integrating this principle into everything they did, spanning from staff to student experiences.

In this context, Ofsted and league table pressures were relegated to necessary hoops to jump. Their real direction and purpose came from that deep focus on meaningful relationships.

Doing this work can seem like a distraction from pressing demands. In fact, it is a powerful alignment tool from which you can embed authenticity, connection and excellence in your organisational culture and nurture the potential of staff and students.

It’s a question of helping your team tap into their intrinsic motivation and thereby shielding them from external stresses. Reconnecting with the deeper needs of the children they are teaching, feeling in control of their classroom and having a sense of getting better over time are crucial to this.

A lot of the motivational challenges in the teaching workforce today stem from teachers not seeing their work fit into a bigger journey. That’s something we can make a deep dent in as leaders. Indeed, aligning direction with team potential and motivation is arguably the most important leadership skill we need to develop.

Think of direction as being like the hour hand of a watch, potential being the minute hand and motivation being the second hand. All have to move together like clockwork. This forms the core of the DIAL framework I explore in my book and in my practical work with schools and trusts.

The recruitment and retention crisis is itself an inflection moment for school leaders. Something systemic does need to change to support us through it, but by reconnecting with our authentic purpose, we can at least reduce the impact of some of the pressures that come at us from the education system itself.

And that can only be a good thing – for us and for our teams.

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