Nine tips for supporting school and college leaders during lockdown

By Paul K Ainsworth, School Improvement Director of Infinity Academies Trust

Our key belief of school improvement at Infinity Academies Trust is that we need to support the headteachers and leaders we work with. Doing this successfully will ensure that leaders can do their jobs as effectively as possible. The end result: children across our school will be safe and they will make good progress.

When I am suggesting ideas to leaders or asking them to do tasks, I am very conscious of the impact it will have on them, their workload and that of their teachers. It is easy to give advice that in the short-term can improve a school but quickly creates an unmanageable set of conditions for teachers in the classroom.

At some time, we have all taught a full timetable so we have a memory of how we coped with the stresses and strains of delivering to classrooms full of children. We have been headteachers and senior leaders so can equally remember the pressures faced and what were the most challenging aspects of those roles.

The world of remote learning is different. I have not had to manage having part of a class in school or college whilst delivering remotely to pupils at home. Some headteachers and leaders may be doing remote delivery but it is unlikely they will have managed the full-time workload of their class teachers. Even with the best empathy, we just do not know what it really is like.

The view from the bridge
This situation reminded me of a quote from a very experienced headteacher at the start of my leadership career. We were having a coffee in his office at the end of the school day and he was asking me how I was finding the new role.  I turned the question around and asked for his thoughts or ‘the view from the bridge’. He was a headteacher who liked his seafaring phrases. His response was “as long as it’s the view from the bridge and not the view from the chateau hundreds of miles from the front line”. Wittily he had captured his concern that he did not want to be remote from the reality of classroom practice.

In facing the challenge of Covid, as trust leaders we are working hard to try and gain the perspective of those in schools managing remote learning. At Infinity Academies Trust we have had long conversations of what is the best support we can give. The world in schools is very different and we have had to ‘pivot’ the way we work to ensure that advice is pertinent and appropriate.

Hence, we have reviewed our working practices and made the following decisions:
  • In the first week of the January lockdown a daily Teams meeting was held with the Headteacher group so they could immediately share the issues they were facing.
  • In the second week of lockdown this became a weekly Headteacher group meeting.
  • We have two joint governing bodies representing our schools and they met at the beginning of term. The CEO represented the Headteachers at these meetings so that they could focus on their response to Covid.
  • A weekly session was offered to our Assistant Headteacher group.
  • The leaders requested that they would prefer a single meeting for Headteacher and Assistant Heads and this has been implemented.
  • All teachers across the trust have been able to share any top tips, hints or hacks for remote learning. These ideas were quickly published in our booklet Great Ideas for Remote Learning
  • Either my CEO or I meet with each Headteacher once a week. This is a shorter meeting than normal and is in a location chosen by the Head. It could be in their school in a big room, at the Trust HQ in a big room or via Teams - whatever is right for the school and the leader.
  • For my meetings this term I have re-considered my school improvement focus in the light of remote learning: 
  1. The first meeting will explore the specific ‘barriers’ that the remote learning is aiming to overcome  
  2. A second meeting will then look at how remote learning is occurring in practice. There are some uncomfortable tales of quality assurance of remote learning currently being shared on social media. We do not want our school leaders to feel under pressure to do this or to fall into such traps.
  3.  A third meeting will look at if progress is being made in the line with the metric which the school thinks is most appropriate. This is likely to focus on engagement and small strides forwards that schools are making.
  • My CEO is taking a similar approach in tweaking his visits to reflect the support that our schools are looking for.
The overarching message is that we want to support our school leaders with the challenges they and their teams are facing. We can only do this if we have a good understanding of the issues and the context of the school. 

Finally, we want to enable colleagues to share ideas to hopefully save time for everyone. If we can achieve these points we will ensure that we do have a view from the bridge rather than an unrealistic view from the chateau!

Paul K Ainsworth is the School Improvement Director of Infinity Academies Trust, a MAT of seven church and community primary schools based in Lincolnshire. 

His latest book, No Silver Bullets: Day in, Day out School Improvementwas published in February and contains 89 strategies which leaders have successfully used in primary and secondary schools and colleges to make the difference to their pupils and students.

Posted: 11/02/2021 09:14:50