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'The secret of success in education? Our staff'

The strength behind any successful educational establishment is its staff, Simon Pirotte writes

What makes a great educational establishment? The staff

Recently, I had one of those great days in work. You know the ones. When you walk around your place of work and you just feel proud? Yeah, that.

It was one of our Professional Learning Days and the theme was “possibilities”. The day aimed to explore how we can further improve on our ability to enable all staff and learners to maximise their potential.

Of course, I was inspired and moved by our speakers including our first keynote, Aled Sion Davies, ex-student and one of our greatest Paralympians. But, the thing that got me was seeing our brilliant staff totally engaged in every session, having fun but also deadly serious about learning and how they can better support colleagues and learners. And therein lies the secret of success at Bridgend College: Our People.

Our people, who genuinely care about each other and our community.

Read more: ‘Back-office staff as important as teachers’

More news: What makes for good CPD?

Background: Bridgend College wins at Tes FE Awards 2019

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations,” Charles R Swindoll said.

Now, my staff will tell you that I like a quotation. (Maybe too much!) But in 2013, it seemed like an impossible situation. We had eight-days cash in the bank and our outcomes were the worst in the sector. We were facing funding cuts and things needed to change.

We started our journey through a series of workshops with governors, staff and learners and it became very clear that our people were up for improvement. We decided on our vision, “Be All That You Can Be” which captured our people-centred approach.

This strapline was being used in our residential centre for learners with additional needs, Weston House, and it grew organically to become the mission of the whole organisation. We liked its simplicity; no heavy, dusty documents for us! It also summed up the kind of inclusive organisation we aspired to be.

Investing in staff development 

From this emerged our values and behaviours and we have become bolder in challenging those who do not aspire to live the behaviours of a Bridgend College person.

“Leaders think and talk about solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems,” Brian Tracy said.

We knew that recruiting and developing the right kind of leaders at all levels of the organisation was going to be critical to our journey. We invested in leadership programmes and, as a leader, I am just as delighted to see staff develop, as I was as a teacher seeing my learners progress.

Of course, it also involved some difficult conversations when those values and behaviours fell short of our expectations.

'It is so important that we have fun'

Leaders need to be able to listen and develop trust. Words are cheap and mean very little if your actions don't match them. We are now very confident about the kind of people we are looking for.

Sam, our director of people (the clue is in the job title) is clear: we look for values and behaviours first- we can always develop knowledge later.

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life,” Confucius said.

And, at the risk of sounding like David Brent, it is so important that we have fun. We spend so much of our time in work and also, our learners need to see that work is enjoyable.

Occasionally, in my career, I have come across colleagues who just don’t seem to like learners. Sometimes, we need to acknowledge that some people are just in the wrong job.

'The power to change'

We live in crazy times. We hear some politicians and celebrities in the UK and across the world using the language of hate and division.

We cannot change the world overnight but as leaders, we have the power to change our small piece of the jigsaw.

That doesn't mean that we are insular but it does mean that we can create a culture that is positive and kind. And even if we need to make difficult decisions, we need to look in the mirror and ask if we have made those decisions according to our values.

Being people-centred doesn't mean that we tolerate poor behaviours or fail to tackle challenges.

'Be all that you can be'

Our professional learning day ended with a keynote from Musharaf Asghar. You may remember him as the pupil in the series Educating Yorkshire who, with the support of his English teacher, Mr Burton, overcame the challenges of his stammer to deliver an end of term speech to his school.

And, there he was, an embodiment of “Be All That You Can Be”, in my beautiful place of work, delivering an inspirational speech to 700 amazing staff.

Musharaf understood how a member of staff could help him to transform his life. I looked into the faces of Bridgend College staff listening intently to his story. I felt immense pride. And yeah maybe, just maybe, I might have had something in my eye.

Because they understood it too. As Mother Theresa put it: “In this life, we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Simon Pirotte is the chief executive and principal of Bridgend College, the winner of the college of the year at the Tes FE Awards 2019

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