The interplay between leading and learning
The interplay between leading and learning

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The interplay between leading and learning

1 Thinking about the interplay of leading and learning

Leadership in learning settings, from formal schooling and training to informal voluntary organisations, has several dimensions. There is the leadership defined by the role of a person such as a headteacher, director or coordinator – positional leadership. Positional leadership in this sense does not imply being in any specific part of the hierarchy. Rather, it comes from having been appointed to a particular role or responsibility. And so headteachers have positional leadership through their role, but so can an ordinary member of staff who is allocated the lead in a particular development or activity: a headteacher has a formal leadership role; others adopt informal ones.

Then there is the leadership of the teacher, youth worker, trainer or adult in charge that comes from the way they work with others, rather than through their formal role – what might be termed as opportunistic leadership – taking on leadership opportunistically. It is this type of leadership that we focus more on here. In considering these roles we need to look at the relationship between how people ‘lead’ and how those they are working with ‘learn’. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. In ‘leading’ one is also ‘learning’. Harris (2009) considers this interplay, summarising the literature and research around teachers-as-leaders.

As a consequence of this interplay of leadership and learning, there is a complex set of interactions between those involved – for example, teachers and pupils, trainers and trainees, youth workers and young people. Roles are blurred and learning does not take place solely because of any fixed relationship between roles.

Activity 1

Timing: Allow up to 60 minutes

Watch the film, which was shot in the North Bedfordshire Federation of schools. As you watch note down where the staff are leading, where they are learning and what the interplay between the two is.

Download this video clip.Video player: Leading and learning
Skip transcript: Leading and learning

Transcript: Leading and learning

David Balderstone
We’re very used to non-hierarchical ways of working. We have very much what we call an enquiry culture when we’re developing teaching and learning.
We’re doing it together. We’re learning together, and although I might be an Assistant Head with some of the people and some of the work that I do I’m working in teams where I’m just another member of the team and somebody else is leading me.
That has probably taken several years to develop that culture and that understanding.
John Clemence
I think all cultures whether it be a school or a business are looking for people who are entrepreneurs, who are creative and who are prepared to take risks, and the school is no different whatsoever.
An example was Bethan Crump, second in English, who when she first arrived very soon had the opportunity to help lead on a whole school project called Reach for the Stars.
Bethan Crump
It was aimed at developing A-star style skills for our students across a range of subjects. It was a cross-curricula whole school project.
I was trusted as a practitioner to have a voice and have valid ideas on how to improve teaching and learning. And I really then felt that I could invest my energy and my time and my ideas in projects, new teaching and learning projects for the students. I was really inclined to do that because of the trust and the support I did have from the Senior Management Team.
But across the middle schools there was a more patchy history. While Lincroft has a well established leadership structure with opportunities for distributed leadership, Margaret Beaufort and Harrold Priory are at an earlier stage of development.
John Clemence
Middle leadership had been raised as an issue. It’s there black and white. There were issues about people unable to take on leadership roles either because their development had not been supported previously or the school was structured in such a way, in a sense an autocratic way, where they hadn’t had the opportunity to take on leadership. They’d not had the opportunity to lead on assessment, to lead in terms of the planning of the curriculum, to lead on even budget management.
To help remedy the gap the Federation boosted CPD opportunities for all staff. And they also adopted a National College Middle Leader Development Programme with the first year cohort of twelve carefully selected aspiring leaders from all four schools.
Pam Sutliff
I think its people with the personal skills who are going to make the best leaders overall. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be the most experienced person.
We talk about: do you have to be charismatic? Well in fact, no you don’t. To be a great leader you don’t necessarily have to have that charisma. In some cases it helps, but you do need to be able to work as part of a team, and to appreciate that other people have other skills that can actually contribute, and at times make up for your shortcomings.
All those on the middle leader course were required to put leadership theory into practice. Gerry Atkins from Harrold chose a project to show other staff how to boost the confidence of pupils struggling with writing, but the process also had quite an impact on Jerry.
Gerry Atkins
I can only say it’s just brought me out of my shell a bit more. It was all about, you know, directing people. So I do feel I’m more comfortable with that role because I’ve had to go through it. It’s not always easy.
It’s much easier if you’re teaching because you get to test what you’ve done yourself. With this process I had to, you know, ask people to do, follow a method that perhaps they didn’t want to do or weren’t used to doing.
Also on the course was newly appointed middle leader, Becky Carr from Sharnbrook, whose project was to lead teachers in helping Year 8s make a smoother transition in RE when moving to the upper school in Year 9.
Becky Carr
Well, as part of my leadership challenge we went into the middle schools and created an activity to take the whole of Year 8 out for the afternoon to basically inform them – this is what Religious Studies is, this is what you’re going to do at Sharnbrook, this is the GCSE – because none of them were aware that they would have to do it at GCSE. None of them knew it was compulsory. None of them knew what it involved.
The course as well as the experience of engaging relevant staff to sort out the RE problem helped Becky to develop her own skills.
Becky Carr
It taught me that actually leadership isn’t bossing people around; it’s actually getting your staff to work with you and for you. And it’s about modelling behaviour as well, which I got a lot from the course, that actually, if you’re prepared to go out there and do it, then they will do it with you – and be as enthused by it.
Another key strategy for strengthening the Federation’s leadership has been to learn from good practice already established at Lincroft.
Although the school has strong management structures there are plenty of bottom up opportunities for leadership.
Mike Lavelle
We hold a number of whole staff conferences and days where we tease out what people are saying about their subject areas, what they believe in. We don’t believe that the ethos of a middle school is set in stone.
Hilary Dilley
Mike Lavelle over the years is very much for, we call it ‘growing our own’, and developing people in new roles and shadowing people – a kind of coaching situation really.
Andrea Campion
It’s very much a sort of trial and error set up. And that’s what I like about it here. It’s the fact that you can use your [initiative], you know. If you go on a course and you find something that’s interesting and, providing you get the go ahead, which you generally would. And then you evaluate it and see, you know, how well it’s gone.
Hilary Dilley
If subject leaders come up with ideas that they want to run with for their department we let them.
I’m just thinking of an example in Modern Foreign Languages we had a dip in the boys’ attainment for French. So the co-ordinator is now trialling some all-boys and all-girls groups this year. And that’s what she wanted to do. We’ve discussed it and that’s what she’s doing. As long as at the end of the year she can measure the impact – whether it has worked or it hasn’t worked –and then we’ll re-think and go on from there.
Pupil 1
I trust you, you’re my daughter, why?
Pupil 2
I’m sorry…
[Pause]. Why…?
From the very start the Federation has sought to export good practice from Lincroft to the other schools.
Any other reasons why? What were you gong to say?
For example, Paul Wildman, Lincroft’s Head of Performance Arts, has been asked to help improve the Arts in the other middles. But, because he has no official line management over staff from other schools, he’s found that an informal model of leadership works best.
Paul Wildman
I have set agendas, high expectations, those kinds of things. But in terms of distributed leadership I think it’s about having the trust to let people go away, give them an initiative, set them the expectations. They’re expected to meet those standards but at the same time they’re given enough freedom if you like within that forum to actually explore their own creativity.
And, you know, you will come up against resistance along the way. But it’s about getting champions in each one of those schools. If you can find maybe two or three members of staff who are on your side, who support you, who will then ensure that not just you have got to drive that initiative forward, their enthusiasm feeds into other areas of the team as well.
One of Paul’s aims is to radicalise teaching by introducing more visual, oral and kinaesthetic techniques. But a key challenge is measuring the impact of the changes both at Lincroft and in other schools where he has no formal management role.
Paul Wildman
If I’m talking about my role here at Lincroft that I’ve been using over a number of years, in order to evaluate the change: it’s about working with curriculum leaders; it’s about lesson observations; it’s about learning walks; it’s about monitoring; it’s about performance management.
In terms of the impact in other schools: it’s about initial take-up; it’s about initial attendance at training sessions that you might do on a voluntary basis. How you measure it in the long term of course is [by asking] is that actually having an effect on, if you like, raising attainment within the school.
And hopefully you’ve got hard evidence which supports and backs up your theory.
End transcript: Leading and learning
Leading and learning
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The schools have moved from being separate institutions to working as a single federation. This has given them opportunities to learn from each other as they spread an ‘enquiry culture’ (in the words of David Balderstone, Assistant Headteacher at Sharnbrook Upper School). Teachers are trusted, and indeed expected, to lead projects for others. The professional development is initially focused on sharing and developing practice internally. A key aspect of this is trust. It is an expectation that staff are learners and so they are trusted to lead others in their learning. Of course those who lead will also be learning as they see their own practice in a new light.

Those chosen, or who emerged, as leaders were not necessarily those in positions in which leadership was intrinsic. There was an emphasis on interpersonal skills and the ability to take colleagues along with new projects and initiatives. Having four different schools and cultures to work with meant that the Federation was able to find natural opportunities for developing practice as it was self-evident that staff were able to learn from others who had now become closer colleagues. The differences and ‘patchiness’ across the schools acted as a catalyst for leadership activities among staff.

Activity 2

Timing: Allow up to 30 minutes

Consider your own role and context. Note down:

  • any leadership activities or roles that you, or others, undertake as a consequence of job title or description
  • any leadership activities or roles that you, or others, have taken on through your, or their, own initiative. It might help here to think of specific projects, events or developments that you, or they, have taken leadership of, and who were led in those situations.
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The focus is on activity rather than ‘position’. It may be that some people in an organisation are defined as ‘leaders’, but our approach here is that all may take on leadership roles with respect to particular activities or projects. Thus we see that people move in and out of leadership as opportunities arise. Before one acquires a leadership ‘position’ one will have demonstrated leadership skills as part of other roles. Such roles and activities prepare for leadership positions, probably through distributed leadership structures. These skills and capabilities may have been acquired outside the organisation through paid and/or unpaid work – for example, in helping with youth organisations or voluntary bodies.


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