Be the best you can be

6th June 2008 at 01:00
The future for leadership in West Lothian is very secure, declares director of education Gordon Ford, and it seems he has reason to say so
The future for leadership in West Lothian is very secure, declares director of education Gordon Ford, and it seems he has reason to say so. Over the last two years, almost 100 teachers in West Lothian have taken part in the local authority's in-house leadership programme.

His confidence has been underwritten by HMIE who, in a recent inspection of service, identified the promotion and support of school leadership development as a key strength.

When the programme was launched in 2006, West Lothian - in common with other local authorities - was facing a serious issue of succession planning, with few applicants coming forward for senior posts. So this seems a significant achievement.

There are two distinct programmes. The first, Leadership in West Lothian, launched in 2006, is aimed at middle-level leaders who may be aspiring to senior posts. The second, Introduction to Leadership, which is running this year and next, is for class teachers undertaking a leadership role at project level for the first time.

From 2009-10, the programmes will run in alternate years, with face-to-face group sessions involving all participants eight times a year; in-school coaching involving the participant and coach in fortnightly meetings; discussion tasks; networking; a leadership development plan and small-scale project and professional reading and research.

In between group sessions, tasks are set which have to be discussed by participants and in-school coaches. Participants also have to engage in self-evaluation, complete a leadership development plan with the support of their coach and commit to undertaking a whole-school leadership project and maintain a learning log.

"In-school coaching is, perhaps, the key element to what we believe is a structured, scaffolded approach to leadership development," says West Lothian's CPD officer Sheila Smith.

"We began by training in-school coaches so that the participant and the coach came as a pair, the coach often being a headteacher in primaries and a depute or CPD co-ordinator in secondaries.

"Having the coach in-school with the participant undertaking a leadership project makes it more robust. It allows the participant, for example, to lead in an aspect of the school improvement plan. It is very much a collegiate approach, intended to encourage distributed leadership," she says.

Several participants have already gained promotion, with some applying to join the Scottish Qualification for Headship programme as a next step. All participants have contributed to school improvement initiatives and learning is being recycled as the participants undertake coaching training themselves.

Everyone says they have learnt more about the efficacy of coaching generally, about professional conversations, developing people and support and challenge.

Participants report increased confidence in seeing themselves as leaders. In a scaling exercise conducted at the end of the last session, on a scale of one to 10, 40 participants had all moved at least one point; some had even moved nine points, although the more typical movement was five points.

"West Lothian regards this programme as one of its key strategies for improving delivery to the pupils and to making our staff the best they can be," says Moira Niven, head of service.

"We wanted to introduce leadership at the class teacher level and not just at middle or senior management level. You need to start leadership development early on, in order to attract people to promoted posts. This is of benefit to the individual and the school and it strengthens the identity of the local authority.

"It's about releasing everyone's potential and improving at all levels. Teaching is a fabulous profession," she says.

"Let's make ourselves as good as we can be."

Coach Dorothy Fleming (above) is acting head at West Calder High, and a member of the project team

"I began my coaching with a principal teacher and faculty leader who is now an acting depute head. Coaching is not about directing from above. It's about bringing ideas out of the person, about discussing problems and possibilities, about encouragement and support.

You're there as a critical friend working through preferred ways of moving forward. It's about allowing the participant to reflect on their own practice.

The coach is not always and not necessarily senior to the participant and the main thing, strategically, is about ring-fencing time for professional dialogue - and that is what participants say they value most about the programme.

It's also a productive time for the coach, because you learn a lot about the issues your colleagues are facing. It's very much a two-way process and it makes you reflect on your own practice.

You can see the participant's confidence growing and that this really is CPD in action.

We need more of this in teaching to support and manage change in a positive way, to share the challenges and the triumphs.

Other teachers can now see their colleagues as role models, including at class-teacher level. In the past there was perhaps a perception that seeking promotion was not a 'cool' thing to do.

This is a culture which we are now challenging."

Participant Evelyn Russell is PT guidance at Broxburn Academy

"For my project, I took on a whole-school careers fair, which involved working with further and higher education institutions and some 40 local employers, as well as parents and pupils. It was deemed a great success, especially by the local businesses and FE colleges, and from pupil feedback.

This has taught me a lot about project management and about delegating.

Through the programme as a whole, I've learnt that I need to reflect more. I'm very enthusiastic but this can lead to impulsion and I've learnt I need to take a more measured approach and take time out to look at the bigger picture.

I have learnt - I'm told! - I have excellent communication skills and a lot of the positive feedback I've received has boosted my confidence greatly.

I've also learnt that I work with a very good staff.

The leadership programme is not a course which you just complete. It's not something which just comes to an end. It's more of a launch pad, an opportunity to grow and to develop in the future to be the best that you can be."

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