Leadership for inclusion

Steve Pendleton writes..

With increasing numbers of students being identified as having SEND and record numbers of students with an EHCP, local authorities are expecting more to stay in mainstream schools. In one primary school in Warwickshire, large numbers of pupils with SEND are flourishing, and it would seem that this success can be tracked back to the Headteacher’s unshakeable commitment to inclusion. In this month’s Leadership Blog, Jen James talks about how she has created an inclusive school.

‘Does it matter?’ – Embracing SEND through our shared moral purpose.

Does it matter? I must have asked myself and my staff that question more times than I care to remember over the last few years. Does it matter if she isn’t sitting down? Does it matter if he needs to chew on his sleeve? Does it matter? This has become a whole school mantra and in many ways, these few words have completely changed how we plan provision for children with SEND.

Having been thrust into the headteacher’s chair in January 2017 as an inexperienced, naïve and completely unprepared educator, I had no idea the moral dilemmas that I’d be faced with as a leader. Balancing needs and standards amongst many other things has not been an easy task and it has been even more complex for our governors and trust to understand.

Only recently, we have taken a child with very complex medical needs on to our roll. Having been previously refused by several schools, we were of course concerned about how we would meet his needs in terms of managing his oxygen and his tune feeding. Now he is here, settled and thriving. It was a challenging time for all involved but ultimately, we are doing what is right by the children and families. An opportunity to access mainstream education for as long as possible.

Practising fine motor skills

Our partnership with the local Special School has helped support the vision we have, where pupils on their roll attend our setting anywhere between half a day to 5 days a week. We needed to know if we could fully integrate these children into our mainstream classrooms. If we could make it work for these children, what other children could benefit from this? Over the last 18 months, a shift has occurred. We have begun to expect more from ourselves as to what experiences we could offer to children with SEND in terms of full integration into the classroom.

Multi-sensory approaches to cognitive development

I am not saying that this is easy – it absolutely is not and the hard work and dedication of our team is not to be underestimated. This has been something that every member of our whole school community has had to buy into in order for its potential to be maximised. Our whole staff body are trained in Makaton, communicate in print, nurture philosophy and many other areas to enable every corner of our provision to be accessible to all pupils.

Our school has become more than I could have imagined – a community joined by a shared vision, aspiration and passion for ensuring inclusion is at the very heart of what we do.

Jen has changed the culture of school by inspiring all staff to share a commitment to inclusion. Not all staff in a school will initially feel comfortable with this change in culture. This poses some questions to SEND leaders.

What is the best way to support staff who have values and beliefs that are not aligned with the school’s vision of inclusion?

Are these beliefs and values malleable? In other words, can reluctant staff change when the new arrangements are shown to work for all children?

What support needs to be in place for SEND leaders implementing a cultural change that is challenging to the values and beliefs of some staff?

Jen James is the headteacher of Rokeby Primary School in Rugby, part of the Stowe Valley Multi Academy Trust


Leadership is about unlocking potential

By Giles Delaney

It’s a new year – a time of reflection, gratitude and expectation of the year ahead. In this blog, my intent is use use a narrative reflection to draw out dome key learning points for those in leadership or stepping into it.

Recently I was reminded of an interaction I had some years ago with a newly appointed member of our school leadership team. She had been appointed to lead a section of the school which involved responsibility for pupil progress, pastoral care and parental liaison. She was an inspirational colleague who enjoyed the absolute respect of the pupils and the strong support of her colleagues.

Six months into her appointment, she met with me (the head teacher) to say that she did not feel she was performing her role well enough and that another colleague would be better in the role she held. I asked her why she felt this and she replied that her colleague, with whom she enjoyed a strong working relationship, had many really excellent ideas/observations for the department and she was concerned that she was missing things and had not thought of these ideas herself.

This interaction highlighted the dilemma that many face on taking up positions of leadership: a sense that others can do the job better or that they are being judged by their colleagues for their apparent weaknesses.

Over a period of some weeks, I was able to coach, discuss and evidence with this colleague her many strengths and demonstrate, even over a relatively short period of time, the systemic change she had begun to implement in her department. I felt that this ‘validated’ her appointment and current position, but also showed her the measurable progress she had made against her own development plan: she was, undeniably, ‘on-track’.

She had contributed in a significant way to a systemic change in the culture of the school (and been appointed for exactly this reason) but her story draws into focus the dilemma facing many who move into leadership positions in the education sector.

When many join the teaching profession, a significant driver is the desire to build meaningful relationships with children and to make a difference in their lives. In the early stages of our career, this is manifested by personal interactions which fuel our motivation, commitment and a sense of our own identity. Messages of gratitude from parents, the pupils’ own testimonies, observing their academic or creative progress as a result of our personal intervention: these are all significant factors. However, when we enter a leadership position, this dynamic can change fundamentally. There are two changes that are particularly marked: firstly in our colleagues’ perspective of our performance and ability to bring change and secondly, in our fundamental relationships with our pupils which, on an individual level, are reduced. The very factors which drive our sense of identity and motivation have changed at our most vulnerable time.

My colleague experienced this same sense of anxiety: that there were aspects of her leadership role that others were doing better than her and, importantly, in areas that she felt were critical to her identity as a leader, for example; innovation and reflection. She was of course right in the sense that her colleague was contributing experience that she did not have, but it is important to acknowledge the culture she had brought about. She had given this colleage the space and confidence to share their oberservations in the knowledge that they had something of value to offer. She had created an environment where her colleagues cared so deeply about her vision and wanted to contribute and play their part. This was a measurable element to the ‘systemic change’ I mentioned earlier. The pupils sensed the teachers’ buy-in to this cultural change and their relationships with them had begun to change also.

As leaders, one of the most important things we can do is to recognise that our own success, at that of our schools, rests on our ability to unlock the potential in our colleagues and to create an environment in which they can be the best version of themselves. If they can offer skills and knowledge that we cannot, then so much the better.

These changes do not minimalise our influence or agency, they re-focus it on a larger scale. We can still have an enormous impact on individual children but the ‘drivers’ I spoke of earlier will be replaced often by influence and change which is not as easily measured or which evolves more slowly. This change is the result of our creating an environment where both our children and colleagues flourish: it is the essence of ‘servant leadership’ – serving those around us.

It seems appropriate to finish with the first piece of advice I ever received after taking up my first headship. My new secretary at the time said to me “…remember, you cannot look after 300 children….but look after the staff and they will look after the children for you”. She was absolutely right, although it was very difficult letting go!

What advice would you share with fellow leaders or those aspiring to be leaders?

About Giles

After more than two decades of headship, Giles joined TeamADL in the latter part of 2022. He has a Masters degree in Teaching & Learning, but is pursing further studies in child-centred approaches for wellbeing and academic progress. To contact Giles visit www.teamadl.uk

Leadership Legacy

By Giles Delaney (Joint TeamADL Leadership Blog Lead)

This is my first blog for #TeamADL and I wanted to use this space to reflect on two things:

  1. What can we learn about leadership from those who have gone before?
  2. What models of leadership are we planting and investing in the learners we teach?

Past Reflections

As a school leader, I have often reflected on the way I lead and it is natural when we do this, to compare ourselves to others. As someone who has worked in Jesuit institutions for the past 25 years, the life of St Ignatius is well-known to me and in this blog, I explore four timeless aspects of leadership, based on a Christopher Lowney’s book ‘Heroic Leadership’ (2005)

In his book, Lowney shares the 17th century story of St Ignatius of Loyola and the evolution of the Society of Jesus, (colloquially known as ‘The Jesuits’).  It is an extraordinary story of how Ignatius created and nurtured one of the world’s most successful, innovative, globally-integrated and socially impactful institutions that has ever existed!

Lowney argues that the challenges faced by modern corporations are the same as those faced by Ignatius 450 years ago and Lowney points to the fact that Ignatius created a model for their organisation that was’ ‘change-ready’, adaptable and which enabled them to think globally, be ambitious and take risks.

The Society was founded in 1540 by ten men with no capital and no business plan but, in time, it became one of the world’s most influential institutions of its kind which enjoyed unrivalled global influence. Jesuits and were known to be confidents to the Chinese Ming emperor, the Japanese Shogun, Mughal emperors and European monarchs and within a decade of their creation they had opened over 30 schools across Europe and at one time educated over 20% of all pupils across Europe.

Lowney distils this success and the model into four key attributes:

Self-Awareness: This is about being aware of the all the dimensions of our being and the impact these have on others.

Ignatius’ believed that we are all leaders, all of the time, irrespective of our position in an organisation.  He believed that leadership springs from within each of us: it is about who we are, not what we do: consequently, it was not seen in individual traits but in our way of living. It is an ongoing process, never completed. If our whole lives are one of leadership, conscious or otherwise, then Lowney proposes that we do not therefore not always choosing our opportunities to lead. To do so requires a sense of adaptability, agility and an ever-ready approach to challenge and opportunity.

Ingenuity: This is about being inventive and finding new solutions to fit the season, population and space.

Ignatius’ leadership style and vision for the Society swam against the prevailing and influential ideas of the time and in particular against the Catholic church itself. Whilst the Church’s reaction to the threat of Lutheranism was to excommunicate the Augustinian monk and ban all ‘illegal’ literature which contradicted its teaching and threatened the infallibility of the Pope, Ignatius instead saw the potential to emphasise and propagate the joy of the Gospel (Good News) through education. The Jesuits’ response to Luther was to translate the Bible into new languages and dialects and to spread the word of God across the known world and beyond.

Love: This is more than just about kindness, caring or being affectionate. Its about honouring from a place of seeing the inner core, not just outer expression.

Ignatius’ vision for his emerging companions was to spread the word of God with “more love than fear”: as Lowney says, “they saw in each person a uniquely endowed with talent and dignity”. How often do we see the limitations and errors of those with whom we work? Instead, Ignatius implores us to reflect on how we can make the very best of each person. As leaders, whatever industry or role we work in, we are educators. The word derives from the Latin ‘educare’ to draw out or to lead, and Ignatius teaches us that we can better fulfil our collective vision by recognising the inherent value and potential of our colleagues. Let our HR department do their very best: our role is to develop, or draw out, from there! Also think about this in relation to behaviour management.

Heroism: This not about wearing a cape, but everyday bravery. Taking risks for the greater good.

The Jesuit’s call to arms, still 450 years after their inception, is the idea of ‘Magis’: what more can I do what more can I give? It is this restless idea for human flourishing through contribution and advancement that has inspired some of their greatest achievements. Whether it was Benedetto de Goes’ odyssey across the Himalayas, St Francis Xavier’s missionary journey to Asia, Matteo Ricci’s entry as one the first westerners into China or Christopher Clavius’ ground-breaking work on the Gregorian calendar: Ignatius’ voice and vision hasbeen perpetuated through the centuries and his perspective of human flourishing, or what we now term ‘leadership’ is a true today as it has always been. The capacity to take risks, to fail and rise again, is at the heart of human growth. Our role as leaders is to inspire this is those we lead and remains at the heart of our personal and institutional journey.

Future Hope

I often think back to a conversation I had with a group of junior teachers some years ago. When asked what they taught, one young member of staff, rather than defining herself by the subject she taught, replied assertively “I teach children” and she was absolutely right.

Our subjects are just one of the tools we use to facilitate a child’s growth and their full worth will ultimately be determined by their impact on society. It is our role to nurture in them an instinctive sense of leadership. This must not be defined by a title or role but by their potential to recognise opportunities to make a difference. The example we set them in our own lives has the potential to echo through the years. Let them be led with more love than fear and be defined by their potential.

So here is my question to you: how do you nurture future leaders, without necessarily giving them a role or title?

About Giles

After more than two decades of headship, Giles joined TeamADL in the latter part of 2022. He has a Masters degree in Teaching & Learning, but is pursing further studies in child-centred approaches for wellbeing and academic progress. To contact Giles visit www.teamadl.uk

Giving students choice in the classroom

By Steve Pendleton

In this month’s #Leader5Aday blog, I want to explore the importance of the power for choice in developing learning agency and motivation.  In a Post-COVID19 era, this is vital as so many young people experienced a lack of agency and choice during that period.

There appears to be a trend in English schools for teachers to be more and more directed by their managers as to how to operate in the classroom. For example, a friend working in a secondary school in Outer London was given a 50-point detailed and non-functional list, describing the non-negotiables of the school’s teaching policy. It seems that school leadership is becoming increasingly authoritarian and teachers are being given less and less freedom to teach in a way that suits them. Driven by the current culture of school accountability, school leaders may feel that exerting this sort of control improves the overall performance of teachers because individuals’ preferred methods may not necessarily be effective. Insisting on minimum standards may therefore be considered to eliminate poor teaching. However, this controlling approach may also bring about unintended consequences.

When teacher autonomy is suppressed, it is likely that it will lead to a reduction of student autonomy (Roth et al, 2007).  Self-determination theory (SDT) developed by Ryan and Deci (2017) concludes that autonomy is a basic psychological need, essential in order for individuals to develop self-determined forms of motivation such as intrinsic motivation. Such forms of motivation have been found to lead to many beneficial outcomes. For school students, these outcomes include improved academic performance as well as mental and physical health and happiness.

Autonomy for students in lessons means that they have a sense of control or agency of their own learning in that they can make decisions freely. An aspect of this is providing them with the opportunity to make choices. Given that groups in English schools contain 30 or so students, how can this be done? Fortunately, research conducted round the world has shed light on approaches that can work successfully.

Stefanou et al (2004) points out that three types of choice can be offered to students: organisational, procedural and cognitive. Organisational choice is allowing students choice of how they work together. For example, students can choose where to sit or in which group they will work. As a teacher, I worried that students sitting with their friends would be more likely to engage in off-task behaviour. Sometimes I sat them in allocated groups or in boy-girl pairs to suppress this. Now I realise I was mistaken. First, this approach restricted opportunities to collaborate with trusted peers. Also, this seating arrangement did not address why they wanted to avoid the learning activity in the first place. Their sense of autonomy would have been thwarted which would have made matters worse for the future. Of course, there are other considerations when managing the organisation of a group such as group social dynamics, the additional needs of specific learners and the need to encourage students to learn how to work with peers who they might normally associate with.

Procedural choice is where students are given options as to which materials they use for a learning activity. They could choose which questions they will answer or how they will demonstrate competence with respect to specific learning. Recently I saw a maths lesson where students could choose the difficulty of questions to answer – either easy, medium or hard. However, the teacher guided the students as to which questions they ought to select so it wasn’t a choice at all. The teacher encouraged some “more able” students to do the hard questions. This threatens how the rest of the class see themselves. They are more likely to feel lacking in competence which is another basic psychological need which underpins self-determined motivation. Not only that, but this approach could impact on the feelings of competence of “more able” students who are unable to do the hard questions.

Another way to provide students with procedural choice is by allowing them to carry out learning activities at a pace that suits them. Again, as a teacher I worried that if students were not given time limits they would be tempted to engage in off-task behaviour. With the benefit of hindsight, I think this had an adverse effect by changing the nature of the task from one where the objective was to learn something new to one where the objective was to complete a task in a given time – a subtle adjustment but one which undermined student autonomy.

The third category of choice is cognitive, when students have the freedom to use their chosen intellectual strategy to solve a problem. An example of this is when a group of students is given some text and some accompanying questions which interrogate their understanding of the text. The students could start by reading the questions and then have these in mind when they then read the text. Alternatively, the students could read the text first. Autonomy would be supported if the teacher does not insist on one of these approaches. Rather, the teacher could facilitate a discussion in the group afterwards to hear the experience of different student approaches. Students would then be able to consider choosing the other approach next time

Giving students choice will not always support autonomy. Students need to be able to choose options which reflect their own personal values and goals (Katz & Assor, 2007). Offering students the choice between writing an essay on either plants or animals is not likely to provide that but writing an essay about someone they admire might. Also, choices need to be limited in number (Lepper 2000). Otherwise the risk is that student effort is diverted to making a satisfactory choice rather than undertaking the learning activity.

When I was teaching, I think I was more inclined to offer choice to students that I considered academically “able”. I didn’t believe lower attaining students would make good decisions. This was a mistake. The students who had made less academic progress probably needed their autonomy to be supported more. They were more likely to be extrinsically motivated rather than doing activities for the pleasure of learning.

In conclusion, I would encourage teachers to offer real choice to students wherever this is feasible. This could be by allowing them freedom to choose who they work with, how they allocate their time or how they approach a problem. When students make choices that you don’t agree with, instead of correcting them, try to understand their decision by taking a curious and non-judgmental stance. Students won’t want to make bad choices and they will learn from their mistakes, so let them.  However, as leaders it is important to remember if we do not give staff choice, they in turn may not offer learners choice.  It starts with leadership.

Steve Pendleton is a school improvement specialist with expertise in the education of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. After a successful career as a teacher and leader in secondary schools, Steve became a school inspector, improvement adviser and senior leader in a local authority in the West Midlands. He is now a consultant working with TeamADL and is undertaking doctoral research at the University of Wolverhampton.


Katz, I. and Assor, A. (2007) ‘When Choice Motivates and When It Does Not’, Educational psychology review, 19(4), pp. 429-442. doi: 10.1007/s10648-006-9027-y.

Reeve, J. and Cheon, S.H. (2021) ‘Autonomy-supportive teaching: Its malleability, benefits, and potential to improve educational practice’, null, 56(1), pp. 54-77. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2020.1862657.

Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y. and Kaplan, H. (2007) ‘Autonomous Motivation for Teaching’, Journal of educational psychology, 99(4), pp. 761-774. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.4.761.

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2017) Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. 

Stefanou, C.R., Perencevich, K.C., DiCintio, M. and Turner, J.C. (2004) ‘Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership’, Educational psychologist, 39(2), pp. 97-110. doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep3902_2.

Expect great things from your team & do great things for your team!

By Dr Anita Devi

One month into the academic year and it’s important to check in on how are you doing and also how is your team doing. Those of you who have heard me speak before know how much importance I attach to teams, as a significant part of #leadership

Last month Jenny Bowers addressed the need to be ambitious Quoting Edmund Burke, Jenny suggested ambition can be a season of creeping along or soaring the skies. Either way, movement is involved.  This led to question, what should we be ambitious for?

So, this month in our #Leader5ADay blog, I am looking at teams through the lens of William Carey.  In 1792, Carey gave an iconic speech based on Isaiah 54.  Adapting this as leaders, we could ask:

Do we expect great things from our teams, and do we do great things for our teams?

Let’s address the second part of the question first. To be a leader is honour and a privilege. It means we have been entrusted with a group of people – their care, their progress and their contribution to a wider vision.  As such we have a responsibility to them, not just for them.  We have a responsibility to enable them to be the best they can and more. This requires us to first and foremost know our team members.  To have a healthy relationship with them that creates space for an honest and open two-way dialogue. These meaningful interactions do not happen overnight.  People have to invest time, energy and forgiveness.  Forgiveness you might ask – really?  Absolutely! Honest relationships will at some level involve friction and so showing each other grace to know we all make mistakes is key for team building.

Expecting great things from your team isn’t just about setting high expectation or targets.  It’s about believing in them & their success. Sometimes this can be about encouragement and cheering them on, at other times it is about providing honest feedback that helps them grow.

Leadership isn’t easy. Author Sandra Carey (no relation to William Carey) advises, “Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”  Wisdom in leadership is critical.  It’s about skilfully combining experience, knowledge and good judgement by being still and listening to that wise inner voice.  As leaders how much time do we make to be still.  I know for me; this is a critical part of my day and enables me to be effective in myself and for my team.  Acquiring wisdom in different situations and season is a continuous process.

 “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

― Albert Einstein

So, in practical terms, what would expecting great things from your team & doing great things for your team look like?  Isaiah 54, where this all started talks about reaching out to the world – a global perspective on justice and goodness. Using the acronym GLOBE seems apt:

Give of yourself fully to your team and its success

Listen and reflect, its foundational for wisdom

Observe, analyse and celebrate successes and failures

Be compassionate of needs and forgiving of mistakes

Encourage everyone to be the best they can

At the start of this year, TeamADL announced its membership to Catalyst 2030.  We are part of a global vision, and we are directly contributing to the wider fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 4.  From my perspective, as team leader – it is a privilege and honour to serve my team to be the best they can, as well as serve with them to deliver the best we can for children, young people and their families. On Friday 30th September 2022, the Catalyst 2030 community gathered in an Online Conversation Cafe to discuss the leadership of special educational needs and disability. As part of the discussions, we all agreed – everyone is on the SDG 4 Team, everyone has a responsibility to make it happen and a contribution to make. This includes you! We will share more in the coming months about how you can play your part. Follow #TeamADL

You can read the Catalyst 2030 Report presented to the United Nations in September 2022 on Pathways to Transforming Education: Proven Solutions from Social Entrepreneurs here.

Keep leading!


About Anita:

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning. Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning. In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Anita is author of the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers and has contributed to several other publications. Anita passed her PhD thesis viva on the career trajectory of a SENCO (beyond the NASENCO) in in 2022. Currently a Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL www.teamadl.uk and #365send www.365send.uk T: @Butterflycolour Insta: @Butterflycolour9

Why, why, why …. !?!

Here’s a story for you …. a boy enjoyed helping his mum cook the Sunday roast every week, he loved the senses, the smells, the textures and spending time one to one with his mum, chatting and asking questions.   He noticed every time mum cooked a chicken, she would carefully remove the legs and the wings before basting and putting it in the baking tray.   One week he asked, “Why do you remove the legs and the wings?”  Mum said that it was what she learnt from her mother.   And so, the mum asked her mother why, who in turn had to ask her mother and so on.   Eventually it turned out that great, great grandmother had a small oven and baking tray that was not big enough for the chicken!   This pattern of behaviour was passed down generations without anyone asking the question, “Why are we doing it this way?” 

Do you feel like that sometimes, or have you fallen into the trap of just accepting that we must do it the way we do?   Similarly, in my Deputy Headship role the staff ran the same reading intervention programme that had been running for nearly 10 years.   No one had asked the key questions about the underlying pedagogy, the impact on pupils’ progress or even how it all started.   You can guess, we discovered it started with good intentions for a particular child and certainly was a popular time of nurture for pupils, but it definitely did not have any evidence base or appear to improve outcomes.  I was not very popular for asking the ‘what, how and why’ questions.

I am often asked by schools to come in train them on how to carry out ‘deep dives’ (English school colleagues will immediately know why this requested!)   It’s a cry for help or reassurance that they will do well when OFTSTED apply their methodology to inspection.   I always say NO but reply with ‘what is the thinking behind the methodology?’   It’s not about jumping through another hoop, it’s far deeper thinking than that (“Rubbish!” I hear you shout through the page.  Here is the Research base underpinning the thinking behind the deep dive methodology )  Essentially, it’s about metacognition and theory around memory recall and ability to generalise knowledge to new situations.   Have you grasped the research behind this and discussed the evidence based arguments for or against the research OFSTED has referred to?  Now might be a good time to give yourself and your staff permission to breathe and read.  

Know the ‘what, the how and the why’ behind everything you ask staff to do and help them to understand the ‘the what, the how and the why’ behind each element of their ‘workload.’   Most of us will feel energised and willing when we are motivated by clear understanding and potential impact on improving the lives of our children. 

Remember, #TMOS (True Measures of Success).   #whathowwhy .  Let us know what your top tips for building evidence based work load practices into your school culture.  Here are mine:


Go through the school calendar and list all the tasks you and your staff are doing over each term.   Add in the list of things you do that you have not been asked to.  It will be a long list!    Sift out the list into three categories

[a] things we get value from and perhaps we enjoy.  Give these things priority (START, re-start)

[b] things that do not bear the fruit you thought (Stop doing these things)

[c] things that you are not sure about but need to reflect on. find the evidence base or impact statements, (Re-think)


Do not assume that because something makes sense to you that it is clearly understood or communicated well.  You may not be as good at communicating as you might think!   A classic example includes the use of published schemes (e.g. the recently approved Phonics schemes from the DfE, which by the way are NON-STATUTORY 😊)  They key as above is understanding the methodology.  If teachers are simply delivering by script and rote rather than with clear professional understanding of the evidence and pedagogy, then the impact may be limited and not allow teachers to make pedagogical decisions about any adaptations that may be needed to meet the need of key pupils.  For example, did you know that SATPIN is not necessarily the best evidence base order in which to teach the sounds?   Well how do I know that?  Where is my evidence base?   What are the implications of that for pupils with dyslexia?  Do you see?  


Yes, I said it!   No more hours debating how sports day should be organised!   I jest slightly, but seriously, I did replace staff meetings once in favour of SEMINARS.   I asked each teacher in turn to read an article, book or research paper and to plan an interactive task to teach their colleagues what they had discovered.  Teachers were then asked to try something new in their classroom practice each week as a result of what had been discussed.   I cannot put into enough words how much positivity and energy this put into meetings and classroom practice as a result.   And this was at a time in the 90s when I was introducing the use of target setting into our curriculum plans.   Learning about ‘Inside the Black Box’ research paper allowed to make sensible and professional decisions about what target setting meant to pupils rather than aimlessly putting National Curriculum levels after each pupil’s name.   The net result is that pupils made what we now describe as accelerated progress.  The teaching pedagogy aligned with the evidence base not just policy from on high. 

Please get in touch and share your top tips for reclaiming our what, how and why. #TMOS

Till next month … and have a good Easter break everyone!


When we belong, we thrive and we achieve the best outcomes

This month we celebrate Women’s History and International Women’s Day.  It prompted me to revisit a question I have asked myself year on year throughout my 30 year career.   Does diversity in relation to race, gender, disability, faith, etc have a place in helping maximise the outstanding outcomes we strive for in our school communities?

I wonder how many times in my leadership I have communicated positive, negative or just ignorant views to my colleagues about their sense of belonging on my team.  Do they sense they belong in the jobs they have and the schools they serve?   A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.  Clear evidence that ensuring diverse communities where each individual feels like they belong outperform less inclusive settings. 

So how can we work towards leveraging diversity for the benefit of the whole school community?  Answer, communicate beyond policy documents that, ‘you belong.’  An example includes an inspiring Head teacher at a school considered to be the ‘sink’ school within a community considered to deprived.   Her response was to personally invite each pupil due to start in Year 7 with the phrase, “you belong.”  She bought and presented them with their ties to emphasise “you belong” and so on.  Guess what happened over time; the culture, attitudes and outcomes began to shift, and the exam results improved.   No quick fixes here, no ‘mock OFTSED’ reviews, no exam practice could improve the outcomes but a cultural shift ‘you belong’ reflected the McKinsey report, organisations that create truly inclusive working practices help all to thrive. 

So where can you start?


Get to know your people.  When introducing a member of staff to a visitor in your school, test yourself to see if you can add a personal touch if knowledge about them. “Here is Cole, he is the SENCO and raised money last year for a 100m bike ride”.  Suddenly, I feel like my boss knows me and understands my values, my life, as well as my work.  Guess how hard I am going to work for someone I know values me and makes me feel like ‘I belong.’   Listen to our stories.  Every one of us has a story to tell about why we joined the profession, what our hopes and dreams might be in life as well as in work.  How rich our teamwork can be when we know each other at a more than superficial level.

[2] SEE

Audit your environments – how inclusive are they from the perspective of each characteristic outlined in the Equalities Act?  This does not have to be an expensive measure, though investment in inclusive curriculum and environments can pay off.   Give each of your staff and pupils a blank blueprint plan of the school.   Get them to colour code each room, corridor, outdoor space RED, AMBER, GREEN to depict how safe and secure they feel physically and emotionally in those spaces.  Do this openly or confidentially, either way you may be surprised what issues crop up.  The sound echo in the lunch hall, the corridor with dark corners, the toilet block that cannot facilitate the turning circle of a wheelchair, the lack of feminine hygiene products in the bathrooms, the staff room no one wants to eat their lunch in, etc. 


Intentionally speak out inclusive language and plan to do so in each of your key opportunities.  Effective leadership and models of leaderships almost always centre around the importance of relationships.   You get teams to buy into cultural change, to changing in teaching practices to the vision you haver when they feel like they belong to it, can voice their next steps in it and feel valued on the journey.   This is a mighty challenging skill for some of us whilst some leaders are highly skilled and effective in this area.  Most of us would say we have this skill in bucket loads.  Does the evidence suggest this is truly the case for you?    The tell-tale sign is the fruit of your labours.   If the team culture is positively bearing fruit and amassing positive energy, then maybe you are there.   If not then maybe, just maybe we need to get some planning time for the language we plan to use as we lead our teams through our various projects and daily routines.  By doing so we coach our middle leaders to do the same. 

For more encouragement on achieving a staff sense of inclusive team building, get in touch for your own one to one with Team ADL.   Remember, #TMOS (find your True Measures Of Success for yourself and your teams this Spring term). 


Perspective is power (part 2)

Welcome to the second part of our two part #Leader5aDay blog about developing health perspective across your team culture.   If you missed part one, here it is Perspective is power – Leader 5 a Day (wordpress.com)

So, we talked about starting with recognising the gifts and talents we still have within ourselves and our teams, helping concerns about the current and future world be seen in the light of hope; communicated through our vision.  One school I worked with recently has reframed their vision using the language of building resilient mindsets and attitudes as the ‘superpower’ to still aim for the goals we had set for pupils; a readiness for the next stages of their lives. 

Similarly, Van Gogh’s painting, ‘The Café Terrace at Night’ shows us we can see the same pictures with different perspectives depending on what our minds are filled with at the time.  Like the painter, we can help draw our observers’ attention by spreading the light and communicating it visually towards the direction we want them to see.  

Building on from last month with John C. Maxwell’s 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork consider the following practical steps in drawing light towards the vision you now have.

[4] Law of the Big Picture

  • Ask your staff in teams to draw images (or collate pictures if they can’t draw) that build a picture of the goals you are aiming to achieve this term.  Do their images reflect what you set out to achieve?   Have they got and bought into the perspective you thought you had laid out?   Agree a set of drawings/images that truly reflect the goals you had laid out so that you create that shared understanding to keep revisiting in a visual way.  
    • Consider using a photograph of pupils that represent a cross section of your school community and discuss how achieving the goals you have laid out will impact them.   For example, I once shared a goal around a staff re-structure in a SEND specialist setting by placing their photo on the board and helping staff visualise with post-it-notes how many significant adults impacted on that child’s life each week.  We counted 26 different adults.  This helped me achieve commitment from staff to alter the way we deployed staff lesson by lesson.   What might your key student and visual be to help staff buy into the heart behind your goals?  Use it to bring your staff out of the dark shadows and sit at the table with you.

[5] Law of the Compass

  • Link the above visual exercise to a set of moral values that justify putting time, planning and mental energy into.   Teams will work their socks off when they can see the moral purpose behind the goals you are trying to achieve.  Where there is moral vision, people become disciplined in their efforts.  In the absence of such vision, the people cast off their boundaries and lose heart rapidly.
    • Link your strategy to building on what has been achieved and learned from past experiences, particularly the last 2 years.   This helps staff that fear change to see that their previous ways of working have not been discredited, simply we need to build on from there to help look to the future.
    • Have effective 1-1 conversations with your key team players to help them refocus their compass on the next steps, the part of the journey we can visualise between now and the Easter break.   Model for them how to do this to help them do the same for the rest of the staff team.  Get feedback and problem solve together the few that still seem to be willing to hide in the shadows of the painting. 

For more encouragement on achieving a staff wide lamplit perspective, consider reading more of Maxwell’s book or get in touch for your own one to one with Team ADL.   Remember, #TMOS (find your True Measures Of Success for yourself and your teams this Spring term). 

Till next month,


Perspective is power

Welcome to the first 2022 edition of our #Leaders5aDay Blog.   I hope you have had the opportunity for a mental break as well as a physical one.   If not, consider booking yourself a day’s retreat with one or more of your loved ones.  My wife and I had a 1 day (child free) visit to the Lake District a couple of days before Christmas, only an hour’s drive from here.   It helped us step off the materialistic Christmas culture train and put our week into a healthier perspective.  We walked along the base of a mountain and enjoyed a drink alongside Lake Windermere as the sun was setting before we traveled home.   Not an expensive trip but immeasurable in getting our minds in sync with nature and this amazing country we live in.   I cannot tell you how much I needed this shift in perspective, but I’m guessing many of you understand that after a tough school term.

So, this left me thinking, how can I help my teams find their healthy perspective at the start of the Spring term.   Here’s a starter for ten for you to try and consider cascading through your teams a healthy but structured dialogue around perspective.  

This is Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, ‘The Café Terrace at Night’ (1888).  

‘The Café Terrace at Night’ (1888).

Where would you say is the focus of the one-point perspective in this picture is situated?  (don’t cheat but for the answer visit Perspective Drawing – Using a Central Eye Level (artyfactory.com))  

This time of year, we sense and see the contrast between dark and light, as can be seen in the painting with the diagonal sections between the starlit and the lamp lit street.   I wonder what your eye is drawn to at first glance, in the same way I wonder what our team players are drawn to at first glance of each day, each challenge, each interaction with their colleagues.  

As always, the culture starts with how we as leaders set the tone.  Are we planning to launch straight into highlighting how dark the season is, how challenging our School Improvement goals are, how far away our pupils are from the results we believe OFSTED will be looking for? (#TMOS) Or will we be able to help ourselves and our teams start off on the right foot with the right perspective (which in the case of the painting is NOT at the end of a dark alley – there’s a clue for you!)

John C. Maxwell in his book, ‘17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork‘ highlights several hints that will help you put your goals for this season into a lamp lit perspective point.  This month let’s focus on one, the Law of significance – the key here is that we all need to feel we have significance. 

[1] Write down the things that you know provide you with value and self-worth.  Repeat for each member of your team and help them understand the significance they play.  The painting has a lit curve in the drain that leads your eye to man in white in the café.   Your role is to help create that path for your staff to be drawn to the lit focus and away from the dark shadows. 

[2] Make sure to connect the shared  vision and the short term goals you have.   Together we can put people into space and together we can find a path through, even when the predicted results seem out of reach.   If you or anyone else does not appear to be part of the team right now, consider why that might be.  Most common reasons I have from teachers recently include:

  • A desire to never return to the pre-COVID ways of working.  We’ve all experienced a work life shift, and many want to hold on to the pros of working from home at a different pace without weighty performance targets.   Work with your teams to find the most effective systems that will help move into a new way of working rather than assuming we must somehow find our way back to previous unhealthy habits.
  • Fear of the unknown.   Most of us have commitments beyond school, as partners, carers of elderly relatives, as parents, etc.  As well as being on the front line working with people most likely to spread COVID variants, we have worries about how we manage our own health and protect those we love at home and at school.   This is the reality.  We need to have open dialogue with our teams about this.  Use the painting as an analogy of working in the light we can find whilst acknowledging the dark alley is still there.   Remember, in the 1600s an estimated 30% of the entire world population died off due to pandemics and climate change, in 1918 20-50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, and yet in the UK we have been offered 3 jabs within 18 months free at the point of access.  
  • Consider utilising the exercise around mind mapping our fears and then identifying those that are within our sphere of control, those we could influence with action and those that are beyond our control at this time.   Focus our next steps for action on those things we can do well now and begin to influence the things that seem just beyond our reach.   The number one thing here for each and every one of us is the quality of practice in our classrooms.   Let’s focus our time and resources on high quality inclusive teaching strategies.   This will ultimately improve all measures of success we need for any measure of accountability. 

[3] Have meaningful 1-1 dialogue with your key team leads to clarify where they are at in relation to the above and light up their pathway with clear support and focus this Spring term.

For the next steps on this journey in spreading light through your teams get in touch with Team ADL for your own 1-1 and look out for part two of my blogs ‘Perspective is Power’ due in February 2022.


Everybody having fun ?

Building resilient staff teams in times of uncertain futures

“So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun.   Look to the future now it’s only just begun.”

Slade, 1973

I heard this in a store at the beginning of November and the grumpy old man in me sayeth, “I don’t believe it!”  Then I thought, actually I have missed you my old friend, I did not hear you last year and yet you have been a consistent part of my annual cycle of life for most of my life (since the age of 2 to be exact).  It rang in my ears  when I rehearsed the Nativity in my first year of teaching in North London in the early 90s and it was there that year as a Head teacher I had to endure dressing up as a Spice Girl (Thank you very much staff from a certain town on the south coast, you know who you are!)  

And so here I am today having lived through what is probably the most challenging start to a school year in my whole career.  Anyone had a full complement of staff in school yet ?  Let’s hope Christmas brings us the joy and peace we so yearn for.  Take a moment to think about what joy and peace will feel/ look like for you.

As a leader I hope for an opportunity to bring connection to my staff, a rebuilding of that sense of belonging to a community.  Or maybe I am thinking, let’s just make it through and hope for the best.  So, here is my Christmas gift, a challenge to all leaders out there.   I say let’s be real, let’s face the elephant in the room with more than another 2 hour wellbeing slot in the staff meeting schedule.

Let’s talk about building resilience in my staff team, right now, this term.  “Cole, you’ve got to be joking!” I hear you scream back at me, whilst covering staff absence, dealing with poor staff mental health and your own rapidly reducing capacity to stay sane.   Well, I acknowledge where you are at and believe me I understand having spent time allowing leaders to (literally) cry on my shoulder and scream down the phone and WhatsApp their emotional rants on almost a daily basis.  

Pause, breath, have a moment with me and bear with my blog.  

Start here (watch this video) … Amygdala Hijack

Search for other video clips describing the concept of the amygdala hijack, often discussed in the business world, but very relevant to help educationists understand their own emotional self-awareness.   This is a concept that I have found very useful in opening up meaningful discussion in staff meetings that perhaps could have more substance than discussing the setup of a well-being twilight.  

Here is how I would approach it:

  1. Watch the video
  2. Lead by example in telling a true story of an amygdala hijack you have experienced in work life at some point in your career.  Ensure you complete the story with a clear example of what resilience tools you have learnt to apply as a result of this incident.  
  3. In groups of 3 or 4 map out the potential root causes of emotional threat that have been evident in our work lives over the past 2 years
  4. Ask the staff groups to come up with and/or research on the internet any tools / strategies they have that help them.  
  5. Ask each group to share their top 3 tips for helping us regain or even avoid the onset of a hijack when they can sense it coming on.
  6. Work together as a staff team in creating a ‘Resilience Wall’ of tools/strategies to help in times of emotional hijack.
  7. Touch base with staff at regular intervals in keeping the dialogue open about being self-aware, taking control and/or helping one another when feeling overwhelmed
  8. Celebrate successes and be kind to oneself in times of success or otherwise
  9. Share what you have learnt in leading this process and pass on the key messages from this exercise to other members of our key teams and colleagues across your local area.  Remember #TMOS (True Measures of Success in leading ourselves and our teams to thrive)
  10. Teach the pupils to learn from your example increased emotional self-awareness

So here is my key point in this challenge.  Find a way (perhaps with this exercise) to open up the dialogue and create a common language, non-threatening but evidence-based model for discussing issues around our mental health.   This shared vocabulary and openness can help also find the solutions, many of which already exist within ourselves or those around us.  We are in this together, in the good times and the bad.   There is no greater gift we can give to ourselves, and our staff teams this year than to face the fact that life can be hard, but we are in it together.

There is no greater joy than to find peace in any and every situation, in good times and bad.   Let’s begin opening this gift and commit to building each other up with tools to help us regulate our emotions in healthy ways.  This is the most powerful intervention we could consider. 

Final thoughts ….

When teachers thrive, pupils thrive. 

When pupils thrive, their progress accelerates.  

Do you agree?  #TMOS (what have been your true measures of success in building resilient staff teams this year?)  Share and let’s face the future with renewed confidence and a renewed hope that we can look to the future together.

Merry Christmas one and all