The “I Have A Dream” School of Leadership


I have been rereading one of my all time favourite blog posts recently – a piece by Tom Sherrington called Culture + Systems – The Spirit and the Letter. It has had a dramatic impact on how I look at my role as a Head of Department and on how I look at whole school issues generally. I have also found myself calling it to mind when reading the recent plethora of excellent books on school leadership by Andy Buck, Stephen Tierney and Andrew Morrish amongst others who talk about the need to develop and share a clear vision for what you are trying to achieve.

I think in our department we do have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve – We expect excellence. We want a culture where pupils produce the highest quality work that demonstrates an excellent understanding of Geography based on a deep and secure knowledge of the subject. The problem is that we can find ourselves falling for the “I have a dream” approach of leadership. It is not enough to dream big of what you want to achieve – you also need a clear route to achieving this dream. You need the systems to support the culture.

When I hear a school leader (myself included) suggesting some change or initiate I want to ask these questions.

  1. What is the purpose? What culture are we trying to achieve through this? What impact are we hoping for?
  2. How will it be supported? What structures will we put in place to achieve this?
  3. What will be the success criteria? Set in advance please! How will we know it has been successful when we evaluate it?
  4. How does it fit in the time budget? Where is the time coming from? Most school leaders say that they feel their teachers are already working as hard as they can – so what are you taking out to make room for this?

I would like us to use more modelling in our department so that pupils see what excellence really looks like.

  1. What is the purpose? I want a culture where pupils strive to produce excellent work. The purpose is to show pupils what this looks like.
  2. How will this be supported? We will use time in each department meeting this term to share ideas for modelling. I will share some reading I have done and model some ideas myself.
  3. What will be the success criteria? We will see an improvement in the quality of pupils work. There will be the need for fewer corrections as pupils will know what we want first time round. If this has been successful it will be noticeable when we look at each other’s books next term.
  4. How does it fit in the time budget? Time costs are minimal. We will need to replan a proportion of some lessons and may need to create some exemplars. We will free up some time through joint planning of these lessons. We will also look at effective feedback this term to reduce marking time.

This then is my goal. I will ask myself these four questions before introducing anything new to the department and will ask them of our line manager of anything they wish to impose upon us. Hopefully this will lead to a permanent and sustainable change in culture supported by structures and more importantly by the team.

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