North East Schools Leading the Way in Educational Practice

Schools North East Trustee and CEO of SMART Academy Colin Lofhouse introduced the second day of CelebrateEd emphasising the importance of grassroots educational practice and the burgeoning educational culture of the North East leading the way in education. 

Good afternoon colleagues and welcome to the Schools North East Celebration of Education. 

If you managed to take part yesterday you will have been treated to some fascinating sessions that showcase some of the best most creative practice and research – which is the daily offer in schools across our region in all phases. 

The best thing about this event, made even more special and remarkable this year – happening as it is: online –  against the background of the current pandemic response, is that it is born out of grass-root practice. Yes we have some excellent and notable professional speakers giving keynote speeches and I hope you are interested and engaged by what they say. But the vast majority of the pre-recorded sessions are delivered by practitioners whose normal working lives are front line delivery in our schools, 6th forms, colleges and Early Years settings. All of them passionate and enthused by devising and delivering the very best quality education we can for our children and young people. 

It is truly humbling to see how the success of this event as a showcase of their work has grown in a short space of time into an event which belies its relative newness with 1400 participants signed up to date. 

What humbles me most is not so much the breadth of interest and research (which is truly miles wide), nor the quantity and diversity of speakers (which is equally varied and drawn from every phase). No, the thing that most humbles me is the knowledge and appreciation it gives me for the fantastic culture and ethos for experimentation, innovation and creativity that is evidently thriving across the North East in our places of education. 

For any practitioner to engage in research into a different practice, whether that is borne out of a desire to be different, seek an answer, to shift outcomes or simply because it’s something that fascinates, the culture in those institutions from the top down needs to be imbued with trust. 

Change requires energy – lots of it. It’s scary to change embedded practice; it requires a highly positive climate in which to experiment without fear of judgement. Confidence to fail is needed to try new things out and be open about explaining what went wrong so we can learn and move on. Trust is a fundamental starting point for this kind of transformational activity.

Take a situation where you have six ideas for change in your school. You try the first two, they fail, then a third which also fails. Who would keep going on the fourth, fifth, sixth? Only the brave? Certainly only those in schools where there was massive trust from school leaders to continue to support their teachers to keep going. But what if the sixth unlocked massive improvement in outcomes?

Research into the success of innovative Silicone Valley companies identified a common thread – of an empowered attitude to failure. Coined the ‘Silcone Valley Mindset’, later to be coined (growth mindset) it was the courage to test out and embrace failure until they struck gold.

Everyone you will hear from today works somewhere where that culture is embraced and celebrated and nurtured – which is why I am so excited by the potential and reality for North East schools to lead the way in education.

Throughout my career as a school leader I have been drawn to the work of Megan Tschannen-Moran, in her book Trust Matters she talks of the fundamental principles of trust being one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open.

I am going to read to you her definitions of those 5 principles, but before I do I want to pause to allow you to bring to the front of your mind (as if it could be anywhere else) the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in as educational professionals at the moment – government is asking schools to respond to the Covid19 crisis, to provide innovative, creative solutions to home learning and be experimental and brave in finding solutions to bring more children back into our schools in a climate of uncertainty and fear.

But what they  – ministers, the department, certain keyboard twitter and media commentators, even our very own Minister who was not so long ago speaking to us at the Schools North East Academies conference pledging support to the amazing educators of the North East – the very culture that they have created for us to work in to solve those problems is toxic and so lacking in trust.

As you listen to the definitions hold in your mind that – but also the flipside which is the incredibly positive culture and ethos of trust which is hopefully present in your workplace and amongst your colleagues. 

Benevolence: confidence that well-being is protected

Reliability: the extent to which you can count on another

Competency: the extent to which the trusted party has knowledge and skill

Honesty: the integrity and authenticity of the trusted party

Openness: the extent to which there is no withholding of information from others

I am sensing and imagining the likely responses to that list – the tired, grim, eye-rolling responses when you consider the absence of those principles from the current school re-opening debate. 

But also the smiles and nods of recognition that those principles are alive and well in our workplaces. Principles that in fact we can all hope to benefit from and in turn give to others – both our colleagues and our children and young people. 

So when I look at the jobs you are all doing at the moment in your schools and I think about the can do attitude, see the innovation, determination creativity and drive to continue to do your very best I see why that is happening – because we have it right in our schools: we know and understand the need for and impact of trust in our organisations. 

I hope many of you read a blog posted yesterday by Tom Sherrington – and I want to read the closing paragraph which is a clarion call for hope and steadfastness to all teachers, leaders and staff in our places of education 

I stand in Awe. And we should have hope and faith.  With people like this all over the country, doing what they’re doing,  we’re going to do OK.  We will prevail; we will recover.  Not because of anything the DFE or a nobody commentator has to say – but because of the deep commitment, the principles and energy that flood our system against all odds.

I’m standing in awe. We all should be.

I am delighted to get the chance to talk to so many of you today of all days as it is National Thank a Teacher Day – and in that definition I include the whole teams of staff who are working in our schools day in day out. 

Thank you for being creative, energetic, experimental, brave and most of all trusting of one-another.

Thank you for your commitment to the education of children and young people in the North East. 

Thank you for being part of the right culture which allows you all to research, experiment, fail and problem solve in your schools. 

Enjoy the rest of your day and the sessions you listen to.

That’s all from me – Thank you. 

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