Like most teachers, I’ll be back at school on Monday and already I’ve got the heeby jeebies. Apart from all the usual planning and preparation, controlled assessment folders for the new GCSE specification need final moderation. Every English department is in the same position; this is our first run through with new marking criteria and so much is riding on us getting these marks right. There can be no mistakes.
I know I’m not the only one to be feeling the pressure at the moment. The new watchword in education is ‘accountability’. If students don’t make ‘expected progress’ then I’m at fault and liable to be sacked. Obviously if my results were poor this would seem a reasonable pressure to be under, but they’re not; they’re excellent. So why am I feeling under so much pressure?
There seems to be a belief that effective leadership is about being uncompromising and brutal. Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said this explicitly.
Take that scene in Pale Rider when the baddies are shooting up the town, the mists dissipate and Clint is there. Being a headteacher is all about being the lone warrior, fighting for righteousness, fighting the good fight, as powerful as any chief executive. I’m not that bothered about distributed leadership; I would never use it; I don’t think Clint would either. We need headteachers with ego. You see heads who don’t use ‘I’ and use ‘we’ instead, but they should. We need heads who enjoy power and enjoy exercising that power.
Well, it’s a point of view. He’s also said
A good head would never be loved by his or her staff, If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.
The problem with Sir Mike uttering these pithy pearls of wisdom is that they lead to situations like this: What keeps me awake at night – A tale of two head teachers. The head in this article is described thus:
He rarely praises staff, but passes criticisms down through senior management. He has regular pupil attainment meetings with teachers, telling us that problems at home cannot be taken into consideration when getting levels up. Head Number 2’s staff feel unappreciated, demoralised and permanently on edge.
Is this really what we want staff in schools to feel? Can this really be the best way to lead effectively? Does SMW really think this is a successful model of headship? Maybe he’s been misrepresented by a cruel education press?
If this really is what he believes then it might pay him to consider the following question. What happens if you put something, or someone, under too much stress for too long? In the case of a steel bar, it breaks. In the case of a human being, they break down. Stress is caused by threat or challenge and we need to feel some of that if we’re going to perform at our peak, but there comes a point at which the pressure applied becomes too great and performance drops off. Yesterday, I came across The inverted U hypothesis which suggests that if too much pressure is applied to athletes then their performance is reduced. Now, I understand that this is sports psychology and only a hypothesis but it seems like common sense.
I haven’t been able to find any evidence for Wilshaw’s views, but maybe there is some. If so, I’d really like to see it.
It’s also worth reading Alistair Smith’s High Performers for an antidote to SMW. My favourite quote from this is still the advice to leaders to “Strip out every demand on teachers except that they prepare for and teach to the best of their ability.” Yeehaw!