Creating a movement of school leaders – the power of networks

Andy Wolfe, former secondary school vice-principal and our new networks manager for the C of E Foundation for Educational Leadership, on why teachers grow in confidence and vision through peer networking.

England could face a severe shortage of senior teachers by 2022 if action is not taken to encourage a new generation of leaders, new research shows. So the C of E Foundation for Educational Leadership could not be launching at a more prescient time.

Our mission is to build a national movement of inspirational leaders equipped to transform education, so that it fosters wisdom, hope, community and dignity, to enable children to flourish and experience life in all its fullness, regardless of their background or starting point.

We are doing this by building networks, bringing together people from schools to support, challenge and inspire each other; rigorous leadership development programmes to equip those leaders to realise our vision, and robust research to provide an evidence base on the outcomes for children’s spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.

As a former vice-principal of a large secondary school in Nottingham, I know how important mutual support is for teachers to grow in confidence. I now lead the networks programme for the Foundation. Last week we held our first Regional Peer Support Network meetings for the South East and South West regions. These pilot groups are drawing together school leaders to work together to support one another as leaders, as they seek to ensure that their school’s ethos enhances its outcomes. The gatherings have been full of energy, life, hope and vision, and above all a commitment that we are stronger together.

Our vision is for schools to educate for wisdom, hope, community and dignity in its broadest and most inclusive sense.  This vision is for all our schools that educate 1 million children each day and for community schools that share our values. That is why we have developed the Regional Peer Support Networks, for both church and community schools, with over 50 schools already signing up to take part so far this year.

Initial networking conversations have centred around defining the school’s core purpose, communicating its ethos and values, and ensuring that this ethos does not stand apart from the pressure school leaders are under to improve performance outcomes, but rather enhances and improves their leadership approach.

The groups have examined case studies in relation to key leadership challenges (for example, removing disadvantage, improving boys’ reading and behaviour management) and have begun to learn how to support each other in applying the dynamic vision of ‘Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good’ into the lived reality of corridors and classrooms. How might a school for example embody hope with a family at parents’ evening, or how often do we forgive our students and genuinely give them a clean slate every time?

School leaders are beginning to visit each other, exchanging ideas, encouraging each other’s leadership development, and offering that crucial sense of support and challenge as they evaluate the impact of their work together. There will be online collaboration and resource sharing, teacher and leader exchanges and a growing momentum that through genuinely giving to and receiving from the network, that they can become more courageous, ambitious and authentic in their leadership.

Anil Gaind, Head at Sundridge and Brasted C of E Primary School, said that the Peer Support Network would help him to “grow leadership capacity within our school, and enable us to reflect, refresh and revitalise our leaders to empower change”

As the power of ‘the fear factor’ is replaced by the opportunity of ‘the peer factor’, school leaders can be empowered to take bold decisions, to invest significantly in that which makes their ethos authentic (for church schools, the sense of being ‘Deeply Christian’ being crucial of course). This key relationship of ethos enhancing outcomes stands at the centre of an ambitious vision for the movement we are creating.

For more information about our Peer Support Networks, please contact andy.wolfe@churchofengland.org

Listen here to the Foundation’s Director, James Townsend, on how the movement of leaders in teaching is growing and a conference in February 2017 that will help teachers to put the Church of England’s vision for education into action.

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