By Nandarane Naina Parmar
This blog is based on ideas from the recent book Leadership for Tomorrow – beyond the school improvement horizon by Malcolm Groves, Andrew Hobbs and John West-Burnham and published by Crown House.
There is a growing sense among school leaders that no matter how hard they work it is increasingly difficult to achieve improvement. Indeed many indicators suggest that at a national level we have seen little overall improvement in standards, especially for the most disadvantaged, over the last decade. Combined with the expectation to deliver more for less, and contradictory education policies, this means those who work in schools are faced with increasing complexity. And over time all this leads to is increasing frustration and sense of impotence.
The situation is exacerbated by huge changes in the context in which schools work. For example, the increasing polarisation of society (rich and poor, north and south); the growth of virtual relationships and communication; environmental factors, such as the implications of climate change, and changes in employment. These factors are within the context of potentially increased life expectancy, meaning schools are educating young people today of whom many will be alive, and well, at the end of the century. The leadership challenge is how to balance managing current complexity against leading long-term change for the better.
A helpful analogy to understand what is happening can be borrowed from the energy industry. According to Andrew Curry and Tony Hodgson (2008), the challenge of achieving sustainable energy supply can be conceptualised through the lens of three horizons. The first horizon represents the way we generate and use energy at present. It is inefficient, damaging to the environment, short-term, and ultimately unsustainable. I think this is equally true of school improvement today. The third horizon represents the outlook of those who understand these limitations and are trying to create alternative, more viable, sustainable solutions to meet future needs. These might include, in energy terms, solar and wind power, hydrogen cells, biofuels, and changing consumption patterns. Such solutions are currently still experimental, not yet proven, may be contradictory, and none are yet to scale or fully tested. However, at some point, a new way forward will emerge from this experimental cauldron to supersede the unsustainable status quo.
Between the first and third lies another conceptual horizon, termed the second horizon. This is the space in which leaders try to make sense of and navigate between the failing, unsustainable present and an as yet uncertain and unrealised future, to try to create a meaningful way forward for their organisation, and, in the case of schools, for those in their care. For one big difference between running a school and a running an energy business lies in the fact that what school leaders do and how they do it directly shapes individual lives now, as well as impacting on the futures those individuals are able to create for themselves.
Some implications for school leaders of this understanding might include:
- Schools being as efficient and effective in managing and leading within the first horizon.
- School leaders developing the confidence and courage to work more in the third horizon i.e. focusing on long term, strategic development and focused innovation
- School leaders (and their consultants) paying more attention leading in the second horizon, working to carefully move beyond current constraints towards a more appropriate way of working that anticipates and responds to future needs.
Leading in the second horizon, based on our study over an extended period of time of school leaders working within the Schools of Tomorrow Fellowship, involves all these characteristics:
Clear values and personal authenticity: second-horizon leaders work with explicit values that guide their decision making and demonstrate authenticity through personal integrity and consistency.
Quality relationships: their schools are emotionally literate, maintaining high-quality relationships work through mutual respect, high levels of trust and open communication and involvement.
Understanding complexity and sensitivity to context: leadership and governance recognise the conflicting demands on school leaders develop strategies to accommodate contradiction and imposed change while also prioritising the demands of their context and its implications.
Leading change through collaboration: the demands to change are met by interdependent partnerships, within the school, between schools, across MATs and LAs, and crucially with families and communities. The prevailing culture is very much ‘all for one and one for all’.
Building community capacity: the school is seen primarily as a community working in partnership with other communities through shared norms and values, open communication, trust and shared learning. This community is inclusive and confident in responding to internal tensions and imposed demands.
Working through loose-tight relationships: second horizon leaders across partnerships, in schools and in classrooms, achieve a consistent and sensitive balance between the non-negotiables and areas where there is opportunity for choice and diversity. The emphasis is on maximising the loose whenever possible and appropriate.
What is important about these six characteristics is that they are not alternative elements in a menu but rather the components of a recipe to be used in varying proportions according to the situation.
The Schools for Tomorrow approach works through an interdependent and mutually reinforcing strategy, within its four-quadrant framework for school purpose and quality (see Fig 1). Each component is enhanced through interaction with the others and so becomes embedded across all dimensions of a school’s work and life.
FIG 1: THE SCHOOLS OF TOMORROW FRAMEWORK FOR SCHOOL PURPOSE AND QUALITY
To quote one of the headteachers involved:
This journey has got a vision, but we’re having to modify as we go along. You try something and it doesn’t work. It’s a bit like evolution, sometimes appearing haphazard. But we’re not just changing as result of chance or external pressure, but because of reflection on our journey and learning.
A major problem with many approaches to school improvement and the reason why long-term improvement has made so little progress over the last decade or so has been the piecemeal and incremental approach to external pressure that is too often involved. And as consultants we carry our share of the blame for this.
Curry, A. and Hodgson, A. (2008). Seeing in Multiple Horizons: Connecting Futures to Strategy, Journal of Futures Studies, 13(1): 1–20.
Can you hear me? I can hear you. Can you hear me? And with that simple exchange at the start of Glenys Hart’s presentation on publishing as an Education Consultant, I was right back in the 1990’s; a young psychology assistant testing the usability of video conferencing over the internet. Back in those days, with five frames per second and 2Mb connections, conversations stalled and it took the most determined of souls to persist. Fast forward 20 years, it is a breeze, and with a handy calendar invite – three clicks and we were all there!
Perhaps because of my early experiences with a virtual team working, Glenys’ message about the value of collaborative writing resonated with me and over the last few days, I have reflected on the place of virtual teamwork in writing. My current image of a writer is a lonely one, my computer and I, and a coffee wrestling with ideas until the early hours of the morning. Added to which, I am the only consultant in my field, in my area, and I feel a keen sense of having to strike out on my own. Yet Glenys was clear, some of her best work came from sharing ideas with another writer, and crafting sentences together.
My current writing project is an article on my LinkedIn page. Ideas are taking shape, but I have yet to commit them to paper, as it feels daunting. However, with this new perspective, I wonder who I could team up with and feel excited by the prospect. With this new mindset different formats for the article have also presented themselves, and even writing with someone who comes from an opposing perspective.
What better way to strip away my prejudices than writing with someone who sees them! So, if there is a member of SEC out there who would like to collaborate on an article about Home Education I would love to hear from you.
Thanks, Glenys for sharing your experience and Charmaine for hosting the session. I hope you don’t mind, but you are now part of my virtual team!
A group of us in the SEC recently met virtually (using the Zoom platform) to discuss how to bid for contracts, and to exchange hints and tips. Here are some of the points from our discussion.
The first point to make is that you have to be prepared to fail, most of the time. The consultancy market is very open, and there are many small firms bidding for contracts (including SEC members!). So we need the mind-set that goes full out to win a tender, but we must also protect ourselves from the impact of failure by arguing that it’s all a bit of a lottery in any case.
Does this mean that we have to put in shedloads of bids in order to stand a chance of putting bread on the table? Well, yes, frankly: but nothing much usually is gained by bidding for work where we have neither the knowledge nor experience. We’re likely to be particularly wasting our time, and no-one wants to appear to potential clients like the child in class who always shouts “Me! Me! Me!” whenever teacher asks a question.
But, OK, we’ve decided to bid for a particular project, and we’ve got the “Invitation to tender” in front of us. What to do? My next point always strikes colleagues as obvious: in putting our bid together we must follow the instructions in the Invitation, precisely. This is an exact equivalent of the “read the instructions on the exam paper carefully” advice we all used to get as pupils. If we take care to answer all the questions posed in the Invitation, in the order given, with signposts (“You ask for our experience in designing reading schemes for KS1. Our experience is …”) then we will give a good impression from the start.
However, and in any event, any good tender needs in my view to include five things.
- A background analysis of why the work is actually necessary. We may think that the Invitation to Tender has told us this already, but we should add value here by digging a little deeper into why the work needs doing. (What, in our view, is wrong with existing KS1 reading schemes?).
- A very detailed workplan of what we will actually do if awarded the contract. It is hard to go into too much detail here: clients’ main worry is that consultants will take their money and then just faff around until it’s all spent. The best way of alleviating this worry is to lay out our proposed work plan person day by person day, with calendar dates. Our workplan also drives our fee calculation (see below).
- Specifically, a detailed description of what the client will get out of the project, both at the end and along the way if appropriate. This is another “anti-faff” measure. Will we produce a report? Will we run workshops, for whom and how many? Will we write materials, and who will retain the copyright? It’s always good to offer deliverables that the client didn’t specify in the Invitation to Tender, as a bonus – how about a staff training day, no extra charge?
- Why we’re likely to be the best consultants to carry out this project. What are our skills? What experience do we have in similar projects? We’ll need to offer both skills and experience if we’re to be successful. If we have worked for the client before, that should be a plus, providing the project went well …
- And finally, what’s it going to cost? Well, we can multiply the number of person days we calculated (see above) by our daily rate, and that will give us our fee. Most tendered projects are price-competitive, so a low daily rate will increase our chance of winning, but it has to be worth turning out. People often say that a low daily rate wrecks the market for one’s work, but I’ve never experienced this. And it’s perfectly OK to charge extra for travelling expenses (including car mileage): by stating this cost separately we can keep our daily rate that bit lower.
The very best of luck with all your competitive tenders.
What do Consultants, Gurus, teachers, and seekers of truth have in common?
Last year, I decided to take some time out of my consultancy and life in London to take a six-month sabbatical and retreated to a monastery in West Bengal surrounded by a simple life with the peace and tranquillity of rice paddy fields and in moment’s notice the illusion of peace is shattered by hooting rickshaws and the bellowing horns of overloaded trucks, bicycles and a thousand voices all speaking at the same time. Only India displays such ambiguity so starkly.
Meditation and silence challenged me to take the sole association of my mind and forced me to confront myself. At times my mind was my best friend and other times, my worst enemy.
In battling with my internal challenges, I realised that to find real peace and joy, we must be serving others in one shape or form on the battlefield of life, not in seclusion and thus it brings about a sense of significance, contribution, variety and a purpose to our existence.
Whilst consultancy appears a glorified role or position of expertise, it is, in short, one of serving others for the highest benefit to pupils without any selfish motivation. I concluded that the commonality between a consultant, guru, a teacher is that we all
share our knowledge and understanding through common values and virtues, to enable others to grow and always being detached from any selfish motive to benefit for oneself and therefore speaking without fear or favour.
How have you found your calling in consultancy?
By Nandarane Naina Parmar