Ethical Leadership: Creating CPD Opportunities
I am grateful that when appointed as Assistant Headteacher at Malmesbury School in April 2019, I was asked to lead on the school’s involvement with the Ethical Leadership project and lucky that I work for The Athelstan Trust, where the virtues of trust, wisdom, kindness, justice, service, courage, optimism are so clearly part of its ‘Caring, Collaborative and Excellent’ ethos. I also feel lucky that I was able to attend both pathfinder conferences where I heard many inspirational keynote speakers and enjoyed the revolutionary feel of a room of colleagues pushing against the unethical decisions we have all seen made in a climate of toxic, competitive accountability that hasn’t served students or staff well.
But I confess to feeling more luckless when reality kicked in and I saw my initials scattered over the School Improvement Plan next to various references to embedding the language of ethical leadership throughout the school, particularly when I realised that having my name published next to the word ethical would mean that this term would start to seep into emails and conversations about any decision or situation that didn’t bring immediate satisfaction or happiness! And that is the common misconception about ethical leadership; it isn’t the soft and easy approach to the many complex dilemmas that arise in our schools. But it is a solution to ensuring that those difficult conversations and tricky decisions are structured in a way that is safe, fair and well – at risk of stating the obvious – ethical.
This was the message I decided to lead with when introducing the NGA’s Ethical Leadership model to the staff. Starting with the leadership team (including a representative from the Local Governing Body), I led a CPD session that started with a simple card sorting discussion activity with each of the fourteen values and their definition prompting paired discussions about the last time this attribute had been seen ‘in action’ and then the more challenging flip side of when the use of that value has been overlooked. Following this, we picked one of the provided case studies and talked through how using the same words to pose questions about the given scenario changed the way we might have approached that same topic. Over the next six months, I used a similar session structure to introduce the framework to senior curriculum / pastoral leaders and also to the governing body, choosing a different case study each time and always ending the session with an opportunity for colleagues to use the blank template provided to write and then discuss an individual case study that was current and relevant to their role and our school setting.
It is always daunting to plan the delivery of an after school CPD training session to teachers who are busy and keen for ideas that will have direct impact on their classroom practice and improve work-life balance … or preferably both. Ethical Leadership wasn’t obviously going to do that if I simply explained the commission’s vision and work to date; the case study approach in isolation didn’t feel enough to capture any enthusiasm and so I had to find a way of making the session a positive experience that would make at least make a difference to their wellbeing. I kept the card sort / discussion task based around the fourteen words at the start of the session as this has consistently provoked some interesting discussions and shared experiences. But after this, I used Mentimetre to introduce an interactive element to the presentation and in the form of a word cloud, share the staff’s thoughts on the following questions: Which three values best describe the characteristics of your classroom; your faculty leadership and finally, school leadership? I will let you decide which of the following clouds you think related to which question:
After a brief look at one of the case studies, colleagues then had to respond to complete the following task to provoke conversation about the reality of day to day ethical leadership dilemmas we all face:
Finally, and this was the moment that silenced the room (in a productive sense) and then brought the most joy in the days to come, each attendee was given a postcard and asked to dedicate this to a colleague from the teaching or support staff who had demonstrated their ethical leadership approach and consequently, whether directly or indirectly, had made a difference to job satisfaction and to success in the classroom. These were posted in the relevant pigeonholes later that week.
The coronavirus scuppered any plans for further development of the project in the last academic year but even in the weird world of lockdown, these values had a more important role to play than ever when agreeing Centre Assessed Grades, agreeing expectations for live teaching, ensuring students had fair access to home learning, staff weren’t overwhelmed by an online workload etc. I do hope that in finding creative ways to use the Ethical Leadership Commission’s resources, I helped in raising the profile of this movement to find a common language that will make us stop and think before rushing into decisions when so much is often at stake.
As I take on my new role working across all the schools in The Athelstan Trust, be assured that I have the ethical leadership postcards I was lucky to have written to me by colleagues back at that training evening, tucked firmly inside my diary!