"I am braver now," says one teacher at the end of the new year-long leadership course in Scottish Borders.
Other participants in the Future Leaders Development Programme (FLDP) say they, too, are more reflective, more likely to take risks, more focused and even inspired.
Praise, indeed, for what is a relatively new concept among authorities conscious of the need to "grow their own" leaders, as headteacher demographics show huge swathes reaching retirement age in the next five years.
Scottish Borders Council is not the first authority to run its own leadership courses by way of succession planning. West and East Lothian and Stirling were in the forefront, and Scottish Borders acknowledges a particular debt of gratitude to West Lothian's manager of continuing professional development, Sheila Smith.
But what marks out the Borders programme is its emphasis on coaching - a development tool that has been at the heart of the authority's philosophy for staff across all departments over the last five years. In education alone, some 150 members of staff have undertaken the coaching diploma in recent years.
Now, two years after the first 12-month course was launched, the leadership programme has been evaluated. The report, published by the council, may well inspire other authorities to follow suit and may also re-open the debate on whether the Scottish Qualification for Headship is the best preparation for leading a school, whether the Flexible Route to Headship is a better alternative - or whether neither is necessary.
The first course was completed by 35 teachers, the second by 28, mostly principal teachers or unpromoted classroom teachers who had been identified as showing promise to be future leaders.
This year, the council has embarked on a more radical concept, with a corporate leadership programme for 30 members of staff from different areas. The six with a teaching background are joined by transport managers, social workers, lawyers, engineers and others. The course has a similar structure, but involves a wider spectrum of presenters.
The original Future Leaders programme was led by Jacqueline Morley, CPD manager at Scottish Borders, supported by Neil Horne, retired former head of Hawick High. Both have been closely involved in the Scottish Qualification for Headship and insist the 12-month programme for middle managers should not be seen as an alternative.
Jayne Waite, 49, is one of the success stories of the programme. A PT at Reston Primary when she became part of the first cohort two years ago, she is now head of two primaries - Greenlaw and Swinton - in a shared headship arrangement.
"People had said to me before, `Why not apply for a headship?' - but I always felt, that's for someone else and I haven't done the SQH," she said.
She looked at the SQH three years ago and it scared her. She still had family at home and didn't feel she had the time to embark on such a theoretical course. Then the Future Leaders programme came up.
"I thought there was some secret to being a headteacher - that it was something that other people did and which was not for me. But the presenters on the course made me realise there is no big mystery; it's a lot of hard work."
She added: "Neil Horne made me realise you have to want to do it. It was going from thinking I could do it to `I want to do this'."
The programme was, as Mr Horne says, "home-grown" and "cost-effective", with seminars and group discussions delivered as twilight sessions by some of the most effective leaders in the authority.
Key elements included professional reading, group discussions, personal journal-writing and "action learning sets". The sets involved working in small groups and discussing their individual projects.
Face-to-face individual coaching was a particularly important part of the programme, which worked better in the second year when participants were matched with coaches from outside their own schools. In the first year, for logistical reasons, coaches were often the participants' line managers, which could make them reluctant to be as open as they might wish, or sessions could end up more like a school business meeting than personal coaching.
Participants gave the programme an average rating of 9.6 out of 10, with almost all saying they had grown in confidence as leaders. Many have already moved into more senior positions after completing the course. The coaching techniques they learned are also being used in the classroom.
Mrs Morley thinks the fact of being acknowledged as a potential leader could have boosted the participants' self-belief, thus making the future leadership programme almost a "self-fulfilling prophecy".
Mr Horne believes there is evidence, albeit hard to measure, that teachers who were already very good at their jobs have become even more effective.
He would like to have had access to such a programme before he became a head, but believes this kind of provision is needed more now than it was in the past.
"What is different right now is that people have huge pressures on budgets and cuts; there are more staffing restraints, and obviously there is the implementation of a major curricular programme."
FUTURE LEADERS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME OFFERS
- eight twilight two-hour CPD sessionsseminars;
- monthly individual coaching sessions, including reflection on an aspect of school leadership or management;
- regular "action learning sets" in small groups;
- self-evaluation leading to formation of a personal leadership development plan;
- monthly recommended reading;
- maintenance of personal learning logjournal;
- oral presentation to fellow participants on "My Leadership Learning Journey"
Debbie Matthewson, 40, P7 teacher, Melrose Primary
I was quite nervous about going on the Future Leaders Development Programme (FLDP), from the point of view of not being in a promoted post already.
Most of my experience was outside education. After college, I went overseas for 11 years to live in Australia.
The coaching sessions were invaluable. I had tasks to do and was engaged in quite a lot of professional dialogue with my coach. I might have had an issue that month on what I was leading in the school, but the coach never gave me the solution - she made me find it through her questioning.
She was a primary specialist in a special unit within a primary which also has secondary pupils.
You would come out inspired from the lectures - they moved your thinking on.
There was one lecture in particular, on managing change, from a local headteacher - I came away thinking, "Wow".
Through the action learning set, I implemented a writing methodology called "big write" in the school.
For me, one of the big things was the reflection involved and utilising different types of leadership, which is the same as teaching in the classroom: one size doesn't fit all. You have to constantly monitor individuals in a classroom and it was the same doing the writing programme with staff; some needed more support to get them on board, while other people would grasp at any new initiative and run with it.
IAN YULE, 53, PRINCIPAL TEACHER OF ENGLISH AND LITERACY, EYEMOUTH HIGH
There were a couple of reasons I went on the FLDP. I had an interview for a post as a depute head and it was disastrous. I felt, "I have got to improve on this". The second reason was that the person who got the depute's post was on the course and he had clearly benefited from it.
My coach was Shelagh Duncan, head of English at Berwickshire High. Coaching was a very powerful tool because the actual discussion of what you are reading and how it impacts on you and the teasing questions your coach puts in are very helpful. As a result of that, I am now doing a course to become a coach myself.
I am a more confident leader - for me, it's been about confidence. I am almost 54, although only 10 years in teaching. I did four years as an unpromoted teacher and then got promoted quite fast. But I found myself in a cul-de-sac through circumstances and didn't feel confident in putting myself forward for leadership, because there were people longer in teaching than myself. That's now gone. I now feel very able to contribute and lead.
There are two projects in the school that are now there because I have taken the initiative - the development of a third-year exam and a creative writing project to help pupils who have problems with literacy.
I now want to take a more active part in delivering CPD. So rather than being on the receiving end, I am moving forward in the coaching course and leading action learning sets. These things will bring me job satisfaction, as opposed to leaving the classroom and becoming a manager of things.
I now understand the process of change and how to deliver change.
SHELAGH DUNCAN, 50, FACULTY HEAD OF ENGLISH, MODERN LANGUAGES AND LITERACY, BERWICKSHIRE HIGH
The opportunity to work with other managers, potential leaders, definitely made me recognise potential in myself, when I might have played that down before.
Another huge advantage (with FLDP) is the time it gives you to take a step back and reflect on the job. It's relatively unusual to have a CPD programme that runs over an entire year and, compared with going on a course for a day, the learning is much deeper. I think this course fits nicely into the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH) - the next step. Am I thinking of it at the moment? I'm undecided. I am a mum and am fully aware of the workload involved. Personally, I'm not convinced that requiring every headteacher to have completed SQH is the way to go. Too little recognition is given to the experience that people may have and the breadth they may have. The SQH is great, but only a relatively low number of potential deputes and heads go down that route because of the huge commitment of time. I hope it doesn't become required. There are plenty of people like me - and Jayne Waite would have been the same - who would struggle to do the SQH.
The benefits of a good coaching relationship are mutual. I gained an enormous amount in terms of development, my people skills and people management, and my ability to enhance professional development through being a coach.
The thing that needs to be watched on this programme is that it is generating an increasing number every year of people with an excellent qualification or expertise; yet because of the move to faculty heads, there is an ever-shrinking number of posts to go for.
- Original headline: Hands up if leadership course has made you a braver, bolder teacher