CPD - Following in her footsteps

20th November 2009 at 00:00
It is not often a college principal learns a thing or two from a school pupil but, in Ayrshire, there was no shadow of a doubt

Shadowing a college principal was harder than expected, says Scott Dickie, a sixth-year student at Grange Academy, Kilmarnock. "It's a long day. You're in and out of meetings. People talk about things you know nothing about, and use acronyms all the time.

"I was in bed by nine the first night. But by the end of the three days I was wishing it could last the week, I was enjoying it so much."

Scott had been selected to shadow Heather Dunk, principal of Kilmarnock College, as part of an annual programme run by Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and the Chartered Institute of Management - a programme designed to benefit both senior pupil and even more senior manager.

"This was my first time," says Mrs Dunk. "I attended the finals last year and was impressed by the students' presentations. So I volunteered.

"Kilmarnock College is one of the biggest employers in the area and has good links with schools. Shadowing would help schools learn more about the college, the young person about management, and me about my own performance."

Intending to study finance at university, Scott welcomed the chance to find out how a senior manager goes about her business. But putting himself forward was just the first step. He then had to be selected from other would-be shadows at his school. "It was competitive. We had to write a letter, provide a CV and then be interviewed."

There followed an event during which the chosen shadows - from 11 schools - delivered brief presentations and were matched up with managers. This was the only time Scott put a foot wrong during their time together, says Mrs Dunk. "He talked about the manager he would shadow and said he was looking forward to meeting him."

Scott recovered quickly when they met. At this point, Mrs Dunk had an important decision to make - how much she was prepared to let Scott see and hear. "This is a pound;14.5 million business and I deal every day with confidential information. I had to decide if I was going to expose all that to the student.

"When I met Scott, I was reassured that he was mature enough to understand the issues, and I could trust him. So, for those three days, he went everywhere I went."

It quickly became evident to Scott that management was about people and communication. "You don't always get that from a business studies course," Mrs Dunk says. "So at the end of the first day, we talked about teamwork, motivating people and the distinction between management and leadership."

It's a distinction that stuck in Scott's mind. "A manager has subordinates who you tell what to do and they get on with it, and maybe use their initiative," he says. "A leader has followers who, even in the absence of the leader, get the work done."

Mrs Dunk looks delighted. "Where did you get that?" she asks.

"Pieced it together from watching you and thinking," Scott replies.

"That's very good. I'd only add that managing is driven by tasks and resources and focused on delivering in a particular area. A leader creates a common purpose, then empowers others to take ownership."

As a fly on the wall, Scott was surprised by the differences he observed between college and school - and his own expectations. "I wasn't prepared for how many people Heather had to talk to in a day. Someone comes into the office, then you're off to a board meeting, then something comes up that needs your attention, and by the time you've done that you're in another meeting. It never stopped."

An incident with a young girl who was aiming to thump a colleague was handled differently from how it would have been at school, he says. "Heather took her to the side and spoke calmly to her, and that was it."

Schools could learn from this approach, he says. "A few teachers can be quite patronising. If they treated us like adults, right down to first year, they'd get better behaviour."

A core value of the college is "treating people how we like to be treated", says Mrs Dunk. "But there's more to it than that. This is a second chance for many students - a chance to engage with learning and finally achieve. So you have to take reasonable steps.

"There was challenging behaviour when I was appointed last year and we've been working hard on positive ways of changing attitudes. I always make time to do a walk-about, meet and chat to the students."

Scott was surprised by how friendly people were, he says. "I got a strong sense of equality. We had a meeting one day with the chief executive of SQA and she's like `Hi, I'm Janet, nice to meet you.' I liked that."

On the final day, pupil and principal worked together to prepare a presentation Mrs Dunk had to deliver to new board members. "I wanted Scott to see how to engage with the audience, make it relevant, keep to time, be confident and comfortable."

"I was impressed," Scott confides.

It was mutual, says Mrs Dunk. "It must be hard to come here knowing no background and keep up with it all. But Scott dealt very impressively with everyone he met. He was a great ambassador for Grange Academy."


Having an intelligent observer studying how you operate is valuable CPD, says Heather Dunk. "You may not learn about what doesn't work from a school student whose experience is much less than yours. But in reflecting on your own practice, that's what you think about anyway.

"What this experience gave me was positive feedback that the way I try to operate - communicating, motivating, mentoring and guiding, providing a common purpose and vision - is what an outsider actually sees.

"Scott told me, for instance, that I was a good listener, which I wouldn't have said was one of my strengths - though I do try. That was good to hear.

"There's also the fact that explaining management, leadership and issues that arise to an outsider helps clarify it in your own mind, and can give you insights you wouldn't otherwise have.

"I'll certainly be volunteering to be shadowed again next year, and several of my staff, having watched how it worked, would be keen to take part."

Ayrshire work shadow challenge:


E: cbaird@ayrshire-chamber.org

T: 01292 678666

The Ayrshire project is the only shadowing scheme in Scotland, says the Chartered Management Institute. On how to set one up in your area:

E: ian.andrew@managers.org.uk.

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