Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The legal basis of cloud-based policies

I've spent a good deal of my 9 years as a senior leader trying to convince people of the value of working canonically. My preferred cloud-based document software is Google Docs, built from the ground up around the canonical principle. But to be fair most other well-known word-processing packages now operate in much the same way.

It's been hard going, though. People still insist that they must convert important documents to .pdfs or (worse) locally saved .docx. What they're terrified of seems to boil down to this:

  1. A teacher stands on a chair (against school policy) to put up a display and promptly falls off, breaking their arm.
  2. The school is sued by the teacher for not informing them, in writing, that standing on chairs was unsafe. 
  3. In court, the school's policy on chair standing is read out, but the teacher claims that the version they were given was different and didn't specifically proscribe standing on chairs.
  4. Unable to prove otherwise, the school loses an expensive legal battle, its name and reputation are dragged through the mud in the national press etc.

My contention though is that the version history of a single document held by the school, time-stamped as it is, is far better proof of what has actually gone on (and easier to find when the paperwork is asked for) than immutable versions stored all over the network. All the school needs to do is demonstrate that said teacher acknowledged having read the policy on such-and-such a date and, if the vital clause is present, voila.

The trouble with immutable versions is:

  • people searching for documents on the network come across out-of-date copies and are none the wiser
  • as people move on, change jobs, etc. the network becomes increasingly chaotic and/or needs constant maintenance
  • there's no single up-to-date version of the truth
  • you get ridiculous things like this sent around:

(Okay that was done deliberately to wind me up, but I have received things almost as infuriating not in jest!)

So my solutions to this little school management problem are:
  • Make all your important documents canonical - anything that's not is, by default, not an official version. It can be safely ignored/deleted from the network.
  • Record on each document any substantive changes as and when they are made. Save and name annual versions using the version history.
  • Use a suitable document management/HR package to record eyeballs over key policies.
  • Every so often, certainly at the start of the new year, draw staff attention to major updates.
  • At appointment, record eyeballs over the most essential policies only: safeguarding, staff handbook, social media use perhaps. Resist the temptation to do this for all policies as doing so dilutes the most important.
Having trawled the internet for the final word from HR legal eagles I can find nothing to disabuse me of this opinion. 

If you think/know I'm wrong I'd love to hear from you!


Monday, 7 September 2020

My leadership philosophy

 My leadership philosophy

I’ve been a senior leader in schools for nearly a decade now. During that time I’ve done some things I’m extremely proud of and also some things that, looking back, I hang my head in shame over. I’ve grown and changed as a leader. My 35-year old-self was cringe-makingly self-confident - back then I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. It’s a cliché, but now, ten years older, I appreciate the wisdom of Aristotle that: 

‘..the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.’ 

Nonetheless, at this point in my career, the injunctions below are the closest things I have to a philosophy of leadership. I use them to remind myself of the leader I aspire to be:

  • Walk the walk. This means that leaders - however senior -  should teach, and still devote time to the art of the classroom. It also means they need to be prepared to muck-in. It’s not a bad idea to be amongst the staff stacking up the chairs at the end of a parents’ evening, say. Nothing irritates staff more than a sense that their leaders are not ‘in the trenches’ with them. 

  • Have a sense of humour. The ashen-faced leader, brow furrowed with the seriousness of it all, always earnest, never fun, is not my style. The ability to laugh at oneself is an invaluable quality. Self-deprecation and a willingness to poke fun at the more outlandish educational fads are good things.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep people informed, regularly and across multiple channels. Staff like to know what’s happening, why and when. If things must be kept secret, then treating staff as adults and explaining why a message isn’t being given at the moment is itself important. Treat. People. Like. Adults.

  • Give people your undivided attention. Good leaders make time for small talk. However stressful the circumstances, however much the inbox is filling up, good leaders listen and engage. They ask the staff how they are, what they did at the weekend, how the family are etc. They are interested in people. If Bill Clinton could make people feel that they were the only person in the room, with all the travails that come with being US President, then so can even the busiest school leader.

  • Consult, co-opt, involve. People crave agency. If they feel that they’re listened to and able to make a difference then they’re happy. Sometimes someone just has to make a call (see below). But in most instances consultation is a good thing. Empower people by turning conversations towards solutions - arrived at autonomously - not problems. People who feel they’ve had a hand in solution-making are much more likely to get behind any solution eventually arrived at.

  • ‘Eat the frog’. Mark Twain observed that ‘If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day’. Occasionally no-one knows what to do - a wicked problem arrives. In the worst cases, it boils down to choosing the least bad of a range of bad options. If there’s time, gather all the information - people will be reassured that you arrived at your decision from a position of knowledge; then make a decision. Communicate it clearly, take responsibility for it, and explain the rationale. But don’t vacillate. Eat the frog.

  • Be honest. Be humble. Admit to your mistakes, be self-deprecating, allow others their moment in the limelight, nudge people forward. If you do make a mistake - and you will - come clean. Nothing takes the wind out of the sails of malcontents more quickly than searing honesty.

So there you have it. No-one seems to comment on blogs these days, but if you happen to be minded to, I'd love to know if you think I've missed anything out or if there's anything here you take issue with.


Friday, 14 August 2020

Why I've deleted all my Tweets

Several conversations I've had recently, both on and offline, have convinced me of the need to do some housekeeping on my Twitter timeline. 


Since I wrote my EdD thesis, where I waxed lyrical about the medium, Twitter has got a lot bigger. It's getting harder to tweet in an honest and authentic way without mobilising an angry mob. This tongue-in-cheek example has numerous real-life equivalents:

You say, ‘I really like cheese’, and someone will say ‘Your silence on jam is telling’.(via @tombennett71, quoted in this Guardian Article).

And as I'm shortly going to be looking for work, I've decided to take the nuclear option and start afresh. I only tweet for professional reasons and, like most teachers, I've long been going on about the dangers of the digital tattoo, so I'm confident that there's nothing out there that I need to be particularly embarrassed about. But I have changed my mind on a few issues. In fact, I've often changed my mind as a direct result of conversations I've had on Twitter - one of the medium's great strengths. I'd argue that there's no point in being on Twitter if all you're going to do is broadcast vanilla Barnum statements and eschew challenge and debate. To get the most out of it, you need to be open to the idea that you might be wrong.

Equally, there are lots of things that I've tweeted in the nine years since I first got an account that I still hold to be true - passionately so in some cases. Sometimes these are things that other perfectly pleasant and normal people take exception to - we just happen to hold different views. I also recognise in myself a propensity for slipping into an avuncular style which leaves plenty of potential for people to get the wrong end of the stick. And because people can hide behind the anonymity of their screens things can get ugly pretty quickly, even with those purportedly looking for intelligent debate. Then, of course, there are those - growing in number, sadly - trawling timelines looking for things to take issue with. Like most people who've been on Twitter for a while, I bear the scars of the odd dogpile.


Even amongst my own friends, I've found that social media affords an intrusive level of insight into opinions that have the potential to sour relationships. Evidently, there's a degree of assortative mixing with friends. But by and large, friendships shouldn't be contingent on political alignment. Prior to the share-all imperative of social media, we were all blissfully unaware of the things about which we disagreed and we got on just fine.


That's how I want it to be for people who don't know me but who might look up me up the internet, so I've used TwitWipe to delete all my tweets. I can't remember the last time I searched my own timeline for something useful(!) so I doubt I'll miss my tweets much.


I plan to continue engaging with Twitter (it's still such a useful source of professional information) but I'll keep my timeline 'well-trimmed' to ensure that people intent on taking offence find absolutely nothing to enrage them. After all, we might find common ground despite differing views on the price of fish :-)




Thai Values vs Western Values

As I begin my last term in Thailand, I've been rooting through my belongings and came across a table in my notes that we were referred to (no official source, I'm afraid) in our induction training.

Having spent nearly three years here I find it generally holds true, with the caveat that we're talking about people and there are huge variations within the bell-curve at an individual level:

Western Thai
Freedom Respect/Family
Self-determination Restraint/Stoicism
Honesty/Truth Spirituality/Mysticism
Tolerance Compassion/Happiness
Rule of Law Hierachy/Conformity
- Avoidance of Embarrassment


Thursday, 21 May 2020

Boarding in a COVID-19 world

The Benefits of Boarding - Harrow Bangkok

We hosted an online forum for boarding parents yesterday to discuss what boarding might look like if/when we're eventually allowed to re-open. 

Boarding parents are rightly concerned about what might happen if there's a second wave of infections, and about how we're going to ensure that the boarding houses are kept safe. 

Our plans so far are as follows:
  1. Be prepared for boarders to come back early at the beginning of the term in order to sit out their quarantine. We'll facilitate this either by laying on our own in-house quarantine (if feasible) or by supporting boarders in state quarantine remotely.
  2. Social distancing all dormitories - we're working on a maximum of two per room at the outset.
  3. Keeping visitors outside a 'cordon sanitaire' around the boarding village.
  4. Supplying hand-sanitisers in multiple locations around the boarding village.
  5. Providing staff and pupils with face-masks.
  6. Social distancing all the tables and chairs in the dining room and staggering meal times such that there is never a large number of pupils all arriving at the same time.
  7. Increasing the cleaning routines in all the boarding areas.
  8. Providing face masks and gloves to all those working in the laundry.
  9. Leaving high-traffic doors open so that hand-surface contact is minimised.
  10. Restricting the number of boarders in the gym and sports hall in the evenings.
  11. Disabling our biometric finger scanners to reduce touch surfaces.
  12. Putting provision in place for remaining open over October half-term in case overseas boarders can't get home.
Advice is changing all the time, so we're also remaining flexible. The old adage: 'Plan early, plan twice' rings true in this case. 

We're confident though that if we're able to re-open we'll be able to do so safely.


Monday, 18 May 2020

Compartmentalizing elements of school leadership

It's very easy to start feeling lost with the scale and complexity of the job of being a school leader. Especially at times like these, when fires are burning all over the place, it can be hard to step back and see where everything is going.

I recently watched this presentation by @Barker_J and @TomRees_77 in which they neatly break down school leadership into six essential elements. All you have to do is attend to these and everything will be okay(!)

The 7 Persistent Problems of School Leadership:
  1. Purpose - set direction, create shared purpose, enlist staff contribution
  2. Culture - a professional, supportive and development culture
  3. Curriculum - organise the curriculum and establish effective teaching
  4. Behaviour - attend to pupil behaviour and wider circumstances
  5. Improvement - analyse problems, plan and implement strategies for sustained improvement
  6. Administration - manage and efficient, effective and legally compliant organisation
  7. Self - develop personal expertise, self-efficacy and self-regulation
Pretty much everything you have to do as a school leader will fall into one of these categories. 

I'll be using this list to check that what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis is broadly balanced and doesn't neglect any one of these domains.

Thanks, Tom and Jen :-)


Saturday, 2 May 2020

No, you don't always need a learning objective on the board

Verbs for Learning Objectives - Bloom's Taxonomy

I see a lot of teachers who start every lesson with a learning objective written up on the board. Often the first job of the lesson is for children to note the 'L.O.' down in their books. 

I've long thought this was a rather wooden and mechanistic way to start a lesson - certainly to start every lesson. But the practice is so widespread and so vigorously defended by its adherents that it has seemed futile to question it. The origin of starting every lesson with an L.O., it seems, dates back to the roll-out of Assessment for Learning (AfL) where a key pillar of the exercise is to explain the learning aims to learners. On the face of it, this seems perfectly sensible advice that few would argue with; and so it is, except that it has been applied so indiscriminately, with so little thought or nuance, that most of the value has been wrung out of the practice.

I was pleased to see that my own reservations on slavishly trotting out L.O.s are shared by Dylan Wiliam - the very expert from whom AfL (originally formative assessment) had its birth. In this video, he points out:
  1. That lessons may very well not have a single goal - some have many so a single L.O. is often contrived.
  2. That always telling children where the lesson is going sometimes spoils the journey.
  3. That insisting on teachers doing this in every lesson means that lessons run the risk of becoming dull, predictable and boring
So there you have it. Like most things in life, use with common sense and moderation :-)