Learn from the Geordie Messiah

25th April 2008 at 01:00
The arrival of "King Kevin" as the manager of Newcastle United FC and the club's recent revival in fortunes is one of the sporting stories of the year
The arrival of "King Kevin" as the manager of Newcastle United FC and the club's recent revival in fortunes is one of the sporting stories of the year. Thousands of words have been used to analyse Keegan's aptitude as a manager, and the one constant has been the accepted judgement that his greatest skill is in motivation. As Robert Lee, one of his former players, said: "He makes you feel 10 feet tall."

All good leaders must be able to motivate their staff, so the key question in education is how best to achieve this. The football manager may lead orations before a game or at half-time. As teachers, we often resist tub-thumping speeches in the comparable morning briefing, or after a major event. Either we can never quite accept that the head or deputy is being genuine, or the style of speech seems inappropriate in a school and has provokes cynicism.

Kevin Keegan's most effective motivational tool is talking to people individually and convincing them of their ability. This is a method we can use in schools by remaining relentlessly positive, praising staff, and focusing on the aspects of their role that they perform well.

This is a trait that I have always wanted to develop, but as a deputy head I find it one of the hardest things to do. As the link between headteacher and staff, colleagues will seek us out and ask questions. Not having overall control of the school, it is difficult to say "yes" to a request unless you are 100 per cent sure. And we often find that heads are reluctant to give an outright "no" to requests, but often suggest a teacher should "think about it some more". The teacher does so, but then is unwilling to see the head again, and so seeks out the deputy. The deputy does not want to see colleagues waste more time on a fruitless task, so has to be honest and say no. So the challenge is to move the conversation on to more positive grounds before the colleague leaves the office.

But the pill is softened by the thought that it is impossible to motivate every member of staff we work with, and even Keegan has found it difficult on occasions. As Michael Owen wrote in his autobiography: "The Keegan era (as England manager) made me question my ability for the first time. It scarred me." Yet even Owen has been won over by his motivational powers, scoring six goals in six games. We should accept that there are motivational opportunities in all leadership roles, and that we just need to make the most of them.

Paul Ainsworth, Deputy head at Belvoir High School in Leicestershire.

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