Wrestling a Gorilla: That Was The Year That Was

Kong Blog

It’s been quite a year this year and I felt that I needed to write a post purely to help me reflect on it all.  This is it.   With this in mind, it is an entirely self indulgent piece of writing but if there IS anyone reading this, please forgive me.   I’d already decided that I wanted to blog more frequently, through shorter, more reflective posts and I’m still new at this blogging lark.  It’s also, arguably, more of a list than a properly insightful bog post, but this just felt like something I needed to do to put the year to bed.  I may link back to some of my earlier blog posts, where I feel that they explain what I want to say with  more lucidity.  So, without further ado and in no particular order…


I had never even heard of a TeachMeet until this year – I have now attended and presented at three, and helped to organise one – each time it was a buzz, though I would describe my presentation style as “rough and ready” at best.   In March I worked with some colleagues to organise a TeachMeet in our own school –  TeachMeet Cov.  We are really proud of how it turned out and there will be another one next year. I was also delighted to be asked to talk about TeachMeets and the Nord Anglia Head Teacher’s Conference at Warwick University, and I hope that my limited experience were usefu in some small way, to those that were kind enough to listen.  I’m already looking forward to my TeachMeet experiences next year  – huge thanks to Dan Harvey for getting me started.

Aspiring Senior Leaders Development Programme.

I enjoyed this course immensely, but it didn’t answer the huge range of questions I had about Leadership – instead it gave me a whole bunch of new ones to think about.  I originally started this blog to help me reflect on my journey (ugh, I hate that phrase) through the course, but it hasn’t really ended up that way.  Still, as John Lennon said “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” – I have learnt (and will continue to learn) about myself as a Leader by getting on and doing it. Being a Middle Leader is a challenge every day and I can only imagine, at the moment, what life as a Senior Leader is like – I applaud and admire those who can pause to write about school leadership with the perception, passion and imagination, of the likes of Kev Bartle, Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett, at the same time that they “walk the walk”.  Incredible.

Running a TaLK group

At some point I will write a separate post about my experiences of Teaching and Learning Communities – I have referenced TaLK groups a couple of times in previous posts and the opportunity to run a such group, with my good friend and colleague Mike Gunn, has been hugely rewarding.  The most pleasing aspect has been to work with colleagues and watch them try things in the classroom that they wouldn’t have done before.  It was amazing and humbling to work in such a mutually supportive environment and I can’t wait to see what new directions we can travel in next year.  If youtr school hasn’t looked at the Dylan Wiliam model of Teacher led CPD, then I would heartily recommend doing so.

The Finham Park Teaching and Learning Conference

Our school’s first Teaching and Learning Conference – held at the Coventry Hilton in July – was a fantastic event, providing wonderful opportunities to share practice and reflect on our experiences of TaLK groups.  Mike Hughes provided a stimulating – and challenging – keynote and it was good to be able to work and share with colleagues from our partner schools. The conference was a positive opportunity for people to look back at what they have done and celebrate whilst also look and where to go next.  I don’t always think we spend enough time being positive about our own – and each other’s – achievements  and we (as a profession) should do it more often, particularly in light of the fact that there is always an orderly (and very lengthy) queue of people waiting in line with opposing views..

SOLO Taxonomy

I have barely scratched the surface yet and I have already blogged about about my attempts with SOLO this year.   My time on twitter and in the blogosphere this year has put me in touch with some amazing teachers who have studied, written about and taught using SOLO and done all of these things far more effectively than I.   My original question with SOLO was whether it was something that would work in my own subject area (ICT) and the little I have learnt has convinced my that it IS worth pursuing.   There is a growing interest in SOLO within my own school so I am sure that there will others to help me take the next steps.

Setting up Digital Leaders

Having been involved with the birth of Smart Learning at my school, it was wonderful to help with the appointment of 15  fantastic students as Digital Leaders in the last few weeks of term.  Though the group hasn’t been together long but already they have started to show what they are capable of and it will be amazing to work with them next year.  I will be blogging about how they are getting on, in the new year. In the mean time, Mike has added to his superb range of blog posts about our experiences of setting up a BYOD programme, by talking about Digital Leaders.  I strongly recommend that you check out this post – and his other others.

Being given a Head of Faculty role

Various movements and changes at school have given me an expected opportunity – I was flattered to be asked to be head of the newly formed ICT and Business Faculty.  I am already extremely lucky to be a Subject Leader of a great department with some fantastic colleagues and I am looking forward to working with a terrific new Head of Business Studies to build a faculty. The challenge of turning two departments into one faculty, whilst still preserving the best elements and strengthening the other bits of each, is a daunting but exciting one.

SLT Secondment

In September I will also be beginning a two term secondment to SLT – this opportunity is given to two colleagues each year and, as the previous incumbents of the role have reliably informed me, it will be eye-opening.  The opportunity is made as “legitimate” as possible – there is a formal application process and you have to complete (or at least work on) a project during your secondment. If anything is going to help me answer the questions posed by my ASDLP course, this is will I have chosen to look at the not insubstantial areas of personalised and independent learning. So not ambitious then.  I have started to explore this area already but clearly I have a lot of work to do.


Finally I have to thank all the talented and generous teachers with whom I have chatted, debated, shared or collaborated in any small way this year.  It has been fantastic to actually meet some of you.   I think I have finally learnt how to “do” Twitter in such a way that IT works for ME (and not the other way round) which hasn’t always been the case.. I can’t possibly name all of you here but it wouldn’t be right not to mention Dan Harvey (again!), the lovely Gwenelope, Andy’s Knill and Colley and of course, Mark Anderson, ICT Evangelist (good luck with your new job Mark!)

What’s the Gorilla bit about, then?

There is a common thread linking all of these things together.  

All are a personal “work in progress”  – I am under no illusion that for all the learning I have done, I still have a massive amount of learning still to do.  The slightly odd title of this post is derived from a saying that sums up my feelings about this..

“When wrestling a gorilla, you don’t stop when you get tired.  You stop when the gorilla gets tired.

I think the gorilla has a few rounds left in him yet… 

Yes I’m looking forward to a holiday, but I’m also looking forward to being in it for the long haul.  I may never beat the gorilla but I am looking forward to trying and I am as excited about next year  (which will be my 17th) as I was about this one.  

Seconds out, round two…

In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and restful summer. 


Learning to Lead #2 The language of leadership

Much of the focus of our second ASLDP session, was to do with the qualities of Leadership and particularly, the “language of leadership”.  I hadn’t considered that there might be a “language” for leadership.  Of course schools, like everything else, rely on effective communication to function properly, but how apparent IS the influence of leadership in the day to day running of the school?  What would happen if the there was a lack of fluency, as in the case of poor Manuel? How does one learn this language?  I’m guessing there isn’t a series of CD’s giving easily-repeated sentences mastered in 5 easy lessons.

Everyone in the ASLDP group gave their perspectives on what they felt language for leadership looked like in their own schools.  What were the key messages? How were they communicated? How can we measure how EFFECTIVELY they are communicated?  I noted the responses given and used them to create the word cloud below; An interesting set of answers reflecting a diverse set of approaches and priorities in the schools represented by our group.

I thought about the language of leadership used in my own schools since the new Head Teacher’s appointment around 3 years ago.  We become familiar with two key messages –   “World Class” and “The Main Thing is the Main Thing” The second one is reflected in our focus on teaching and learning (which I allude to here) but I was asked by others in the group how “World Class” might be defined or measured – how was this language of leadership actually impacting on my school?  This was a good question and I thought about the “3P’s” of Leadership in Education that we had been introduced to earlier in the session;

  • Principle (moral basis of the school)
  • Purpose (core business of the school)
  • People (social relationships in the school)

I was able to think of numerous examples of how Leadership had influenced all three of these areas; I won’t list them but it was hard to think of any change in my establishment over the last three years that didn’t fit into these categories and that wasn’t driven by the key messages we  had heard on a regular basis. I felt there was clear, measurable impact in each case. So perhaps a case of managed-well, rather than Manuel? (Sorry!)

We covered some interesting ground on the qualities of good leadership in tonight and I gained some useful personal perspectives from the DH leading the session.  The challenge of leading people towards shared principles and practices in your school seems to depend so much on your ability to communicate these things effectively. I think it’s done pretty well at my place – how clearly is the language of leadership written through your school?

Is the language of leadership at the core of your school?

Learning to Lead part 1

Yesterday I attended the first session of the Aspiring Senior Leaders Development Programme in which I am participating this year.  It was an enjoyable day that left me with plenty to think about. There is an interesting and diverse group of colleagues – both from my school and others – in my cohort, which created a stimulating environment for discussion. I got a lot out of each part of the day – the data analysis task was challenging and I am glad that there will be a future session on this as it is not one of my strengths.

For me though, Victor Allen’s session on “Emotionally Literate Leadership” was the highlight of the day and I found it absolutely fascinating. It made me reflect on how I interact both with learners and with colleagues (especially my team) and how, even though I feel that I generally relate well to all of those groups, there are many ways in which I could do so better.  Looking at the different MBTI personality types had the inevitable effect of  making me recall people I know who I felt fitted the different categories and to review situations where, even with the  limited knowledge I have now, I might have interacted with them differently!  It struck me as a complex model that would take a huge amount of skill to use intuitively.  I have performance management to carry out as part of my current role and this would seem to be a good opportunity to try and consider these ideas in practice.

Using these principles effectively in the classroom will be essential too and I am going to work hard at doing this.  I can think of occasions where these behaviours may have a significant effect in a lesson – for example when using certain AFL techniques, will some students will cope better than others modelling different behaviour types? Putting into a practical context, we have a “no hands up” policy in our school, and I wonder if students exhibiting certain behaviour types, cope with this better than others. In (very) simple terms, do Extraverts cope with being “picked on” better than “Introverts”?  Can Extraverts cope with the fact that if a teacher is choosing names randomly, they may not get to contribute?  Can Introverts cope with reflective and evaluative tasks better?  What about managing group work?  And how do we teach children to consider these differences in their interactions with each other? I know that I have looked at this model in a VERY simple way, and at the moment I have lots more questions than answers.  I need to find more out about “ELL”, particularly with regard to how to manage it in a classroom setting.  At the end of the day, when we were asked to consider the traits of an effective leader, emotional intelligence figured pretty high on everyone’s list and I can’t conceive of a way of being able lead people well without being emotionally literate.   Looks like I have work to do…