Schools occupy a unique position when it comes to the idea of leadership. Not only do schools have to manage budgets and people like any business, they also need to lead pupils of a variety of ages, lead staff from a multitude of backgrounds and departments, lead parents, and lead a wide range of other stakeholders. To add further complexity, education is often an emotionally invested business, with pupils, staff, and governments often presenting as unpredictable and unstable, with grade outcomes one of the many different currencies that regulators are evaluating. In its simplest form, the question here is: ‘how can a headteacher lead such a complex mix of motivations and personalities, and deliver the best possible outcomes for students effectively?'. In terms of leadership, a head and their leadership team will have to lead their staff to where they want them to be, but will also need to have influence over a large number of students and parents to show effectiveness to a strict regulating body. How can one person (or one team of people) have such a far reaching leadership remit in terms of budgets, outcomes, staffing, curriculum planning, safeguarding, marketing and branding, recruiting and retaining staff and students, (to name but a few!) and deliver all of this in a multitude of challenging circumstances? Exploring value led leadership as a means for achieving outstanding outcomes, however one defines that, is something that has the potential to truly make a difference our schools, as seen in many case studies (Claire Cuthbert's work at The Evolve Trust for one), and the intention of this essay is to do this through the study of three different head teachers who have all been in post at the same school over the past seven years, but with differing approaches with regards to leading with values first, and differing successes as a result of this. First though, it is useful to explore what value led leadership actually looks like, how it can be powerful, and how it can eventually permeate so much of an educational establishment.
The term ‘values' is a difficult one to define. By their very nature personal values are subjective, can be different from person to person, and can change for an individual over time. If a leader is going to be led by values, then surely the values themselves need to be worthy or leadership as well as the individual? Busher writes that ‘Underpinning most decision-making in schools are deep concerns with educational and social values'; if this is true then values can be central to the way a school operates. Much has been written about the different values that make for good leadership, but what good is that if those who are in leadership do not genuinely hold those values, and only pay lip service to them because different leadership models and books direct them too? The question is answered through authenticity. Bill George suggests that ‘the authentic leader brings people together around a shared purpose and empowers them to step up and lead authentically in order to create value for all stake holders', and Thomas Sergiovanni suggests that ‘Authentic Leaders anchor their practice in ideas, values, and commitments, exhibit distinctive qualities of style and substance, and can be trusted to be morally diligent… in other words, display character, and character is the defining characteristic in authentic leadership . It seems that values and an ability to be authentic are linked. In Brian J. Hoffman et al's meta-analysis ‘Great Man or Myth?', a list of ‘trait-like', and ‘state-like' variables for effective leadership is put forward. It is stated that these ‘results suggest that to some extent, immutable characteristics (e.g. traits) distinguish effective from ineffective leaders lending credence to the hypothesis that to some extent, leaders are born, not made. On the other hand, more malleable, state-like individual differences also explained meaningful variance in effective leadership, supporting the perspective that to some extent, effective leadership can be developed' . Within the ‘trait-like' variables, we find:
Achievement motivation, Initiative, Ambition, Energy, Need for Power, Dominance, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Honesty/Integrity, Self-Confidence, Adjustment, Creativity, Flexibility, Self-monitoring, Charisma, and Cognitive ability.
Authenticity does not feature in exact wording, but it reasonable to use it as a synonym for Honesty/Integrity in the first instance. Thinking a bit more creatively, though, it could be argued that authenticity or authentic behaviour can be seen to permeate this list. Obviously honesty and integrity are inked to authenticity, but it does not seen too big a leap to include initiative, self-confidence, self-monitoring and charisma in behaviours which are governed by authenticity, and so, in turn, a leader's values.
It is also true that the best leaders behave in a way that is morally defensible, and indeed in Michael Fullen's five key dimensions, it is advised that leaders are ‘acting with moral purpose' and clearly a set of values that will set a leader on the right track will prove useful. Christopher Hodgkinson hypothesises that ‘the quality of leadership is functionally related to the moral climate of the organisation and this, in turn, to the moral complexity and skills of the leader', and that the fourth dimension to leadership (along with consideration for the followership, production emphasis, and situational factors) is that ‘morality exists within the leader' . This essay is not intending to add to the ‘Nature vs Nurture' debate on leadership, but clearly in eduction the best leaders will naturally (or nurturally) hold a clear set of values that will work with staff, parents, governors and students alike. That way, authenticity comes much easier, as the values themselves are appropriate for effective leadership. It should be noted here, though, that clearly having strong values in not enough in it's own right; an individual needs to have the personal traits and emotional intelligence to be able to lead as well, otherwise there will be no leadership at all, regardless of the values. Daniel Goldman makes the case for ‘emotional intelligence' and that ‘Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal'. Clearly there is more to leadership than just values; A strong leader needs leadership skills and vision, but as we have seen, a great leader needs this, authenticity, and a set of values to lead themselves and those that follow them. Covey and Merrill outline the four cores for inspiring trust in both yourself and others as; Integrity, intent, capabilities and results . There is a return here to integrity, and in this case intent, which the authors describe as character, which is consistent with what we have looked at already with regard to values and authenticity. These four cores are also applied to organisations themselves, which are drawn from the leader's four cores ;This then, is a question of culture and community of an organisation.
Shein suggests that ‘culture is to a group what character is to an individual' and that ‘just as our personality and character guide and constrain our behaviour, so does culture guide and constrain the behaviour of members of a group through the share norms that are held in that group'. Interestingly, Dr. İ. Efe Efeoğlu approaches the question from the side of the employees in a school, and based on participant's responses to his 2017 study, culture was defined ‘in general as procedures, beliefs, attitudes, and way of working peculiar to an organisation, as well as referring to working for organisational aims'. There are several other definitions, but the two above certainly seem to ring true in the day to day life of a school. Thomas Sergiovanni states 'that culture is generally thought of the normative glue that holds a particular school together. With shared visions, values, and beliefs at its heart, culture serves as a compass setting, steering people in a common direction. It provides norms that govern the way people interact with each other. It provides a framework for deciding what does and doesn't make sense'. Clearly, the culture and community of a school is important. As already stated, this follows on from the leader of the school, and that leader, if they are to be authentic and effective, should be governed by their own values; the idea of value led leadership actually translates into the creating of a culture in the leader's image, and effective authentic leadership (provided that the initial values are worthy of leadership). In an attempt to simplify:
The most effective educational organisations have a clear culture and community which encourages performance of their staff and students.
This is drawn from the leader and what they believe to be important.
This is drawn from what the leader's own values are.
This is potentially an over-simplification though, as will be seen with the first of the three leaders that this essay will explore.
The first leader that this essay will look at we will call ‘P' for anonymities sake. The school is in a reasonably deprived area, with a high proportion of PP students, and (at this point) not a full PAN. ‘P' was the headteacher, and was clearly a very personable, nice man, who had a strong set of personal values. He was though, reliant on his Senior Leadership Team, which was fronted by the Deputy Head Teacher. Between them, there was no clear set of shared values, and neither shared their values explicitly with the staff team. Often there was talk of being ‘on the bus', with statements that indicated that staff needed to ‘buy into' what the school was trying to achieve. This is where the notion of value led leadership is interesting. Clearly there was an attempt to align staff in some way, but it was never actually clear what this alignment was to, and the difference in the value sets between the Head and his SLT further added to the difficulty for staff to understand what direction the school was going in. This meant that it did not really matter what the head's values were; he himself was not capable of leading his staff there, his SLT held different values altogether, and the vision was not clear enough for them to follow and feed down to the rest of the staff. Further difficulty was added with the deputy head, as he would mislead middle leaders and was often combative in meetings, which alienated middle leadership; the head could not even rely on his middle leaders either now, as on the whole, they were basically ‘fed up'. Even if they were still on board, they did not know what the values of the school truly were. So how could the notion of value led leadership have made any difference here? Firstly, a clear set of defined values would have seen more alignment beneath him. Outlining explicitly what the school was trying to achieve was important, but even more so is why the school is trying to achieve it; if the middle leaders, SLT and staff understand this, then the head would not have had to have been so reliant on his deputy, as there would be more staff in the school with an understanding of the school's aims. The head could have relied on his SLT to provide the leadership he could not, as they would have been aligned with his values. Secondly, there is a real issue surrounding authenticity that could have been addressed with a more explicitly clear approach to values. This will be explored in more detail later, but the head and the SLT had lost the trust of the staff, as the leadership did not seem authentic. The head would say one thing, but the SLT would deliver something else as there was no alignment of values between the two. Thirdly, the lack of any real, explicit values, meant that staff did not really see what they were doing as having any real value in itself. Most of the talk was about Ofsted, and not about what was best for the students and why; staff were agents for change for the establishment of the school and the leadership team, not for the students themselves, which links back into Fullen's moral purpose. The manner in which the staff were being 'led' meant that there were a large proportion of staff who were not overly bothered about teaching and learning, as it was a means to an end to get the school out of ‘requires improvement'. The perception was that the school needed to improve to make the leadership look better, and the students achieving success and experiencing good lessons was to be a product of the school getting a more favourable Ofsted rating, not the other way around. Finally, the culture and climate that this misalignment and non-communication of values cultivated was very insular, and quite hostile at times. Staff did not feel secure in what they were doing, and this meant that people at all levels were defensive and often unsupportive. A clear set of values and a clear vision would have gone a long way to creative a more positive and cohesive community. Needless to say, ‘P' did not improve the school sufficiently, and officially he took an early retirement after the next visit from Ofsted. There were six changes to the SLT after he left, and the deputy head was amongst the first to leave the organisation after the appointment of the second head teacher that this essay will study. The culture of the school was a result of the muddled leadership, and the was a real issue for bringing about improvement in the school. Harry M. Kraener writes that ‘Your ability to influence people, whether you are leading a team of two or running an organisation of twenty thousand, depends significantly on their ability to appreciate your values. Your values as a leader should be so clearly understood that if you put three, five, twenty, or even one hundred members of your team together in the room, they would be able to explain what you stand for in consistent terms. The more they understand your values, the better they will relate to you and follow your lead'. This is certainly consistent here, and one of the many issues faced by ‘P'.
This sense of culture centred around values though, was a real area of strength for the second leader that this essay will study, and for anonymity's sake he will be referred to as ‘B'. ‘B' followed on directly from ‘P' as executive head teacher whilst a full time replacement was appointed. The task that he was faced with was bringing about rapid improvement in a ‘failing school', but with a ‘mixed bag' of staff, trying to maintain some form of staff and student moral. The first staff meeting was called, and the very first thing that ‘B' said was something that had real impact with staff. With complete honesty, he stated that he was not the brightest man, and not even necessarily naturally the best practitioner, but that what he did do was care, and work hard. The second thing he went on to communicate was that he did not want to do anything that ‘didn't seem fair' and he wanted to be able to ‘look every one of the staff in the eye and say that he did the best thing for the staff and students'. He then went on to ask if anyone had anything they wanted to ask at that point. With those three points he had summed up what his values were to the staff team. He was not that worried if you struggled or were not naturally gifted as a practitioner, but what he was giving value to was hard work, caring about the job, and fairness/integrity (along with some form of democracy). Clearly, this is someone who is communicating explicit values to his staff team very early on. Anecdotally, conversation with staff at the other school he was leading confirmed that it was hard work and people stayed late, but people were happy to do it as they bought in to his values, and in turn, ‘B' as a leader. This does sound a lot like the ‘Transformational Leadership' that is often written about, and clearly ‘B' is a ‘transformational leader' in the definition offered by James Burns, and it is often stated that through the strength of their vision and personality…are able to inspire followers to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work towards common goals'. The difference between this and what is intended by this essay, is that not everyone is a transformational leader; indeed research has shown that 88% of leaders use transformational type skills in their leadership, but only 12% are truly transformational. Whilst transformational leadership is clearly an aspiration and inspiration for many, the truth is, it can not be the sole aim for school improvement, as it seems only 12% can authentically lead like this. Leading with values though, is a similar approach to leadership, but which is achievable for many more school leaders as will be explored later.
Over a short space of time, ‘B' did improve the culture of the school whilst searching for a full time head teacher . As mentioned earlier, there were six changes to SLT, but this didn't come from ‘B', but the next leader that we will look at. Before that, though, ‘B' organised a school painting event in which staff, students and parents came in to paint the walls of the school and the reason cited was that it was very ‘run down'. One suspects that this was not the reason at all, but to give a clear sign and signal that ‘B' cared about the school, and that more cohesion was required amongst stake holders. This was a means of creating a better culture by being authentic to ‘B's values. The event was extremely well attended, and it is difficult to say that it would have been so successful had ‘B' not been so authentic. Had people not believed that the motivation for them to give up their weekend was not for the students, staff and school, but more a publicity stunt for the new leader, then it is far to say the event would have probably fallen flat. Alongside all of this, there were staff surveys, meetings and social events aimed at diagnosing the problems and resolving them, with ‘B's values at the centre. Eventually, after two terms, there were interviews for a permanent head teacher. When these were announced to the staff, again, the terms ‘be able to look you in the eye', and what is ‘right' for the staff students and school were used, as there were staff that were anxious about a new change in leadership. As it turned out, there was a candidate that was a deputy head teacher at “B's school, who spoke in very similar terms, and appeared to share similar values. She was appointed, and again for anonymities sake we will call her ‘J'.
‘J's interview presentation was, as one would expect, very student focussed, and whilst she stopped short of communicating exactly the same values as ‘B', it was clear that she has learnt from ‘B', and it was professional and confident in its delivery. Eventually, the school was converted to join an academy trust, and changes in structure were being introduced. It was here that the changes six changes to SLT were made, and there were also almost wholesale changes to the governing body. The school's mission statement was changed to reflect what was identified in the most recent Ofsted report as a shortcoming, and there were several initiatives introduced across the school in a range of different areas. There are some interesting elements to some of these, which will later feed into the idea of value led leadership. For one, the SLT changes that were made, were to remove the old, and replace all but one with people that ‘J' had worked with in previous schools, one was known to be a very close friend of hers. Whilst this is not necessarily an issue in itself, it was seen that there was talent within the school enough to allow for at least one member of the senior middle leaders to interview for the post, but the job description was seen to have been worded in such a way that this was not possible. This chipped away at trust, authenticity and values. Even more of an issue, was that the new SLT member did not teach a subject that the school offered, and so a new department was introduced, where other staff were being ‘moved on', and many others were teaching across a range of non-specialist subjects. Later on, there was the appointment of an ex-spouse, who went from the initial appointment of ‘cover teacher' to assistant head teacher in the space of a term. This caused some unrest in the staff, and staff turn over a the end of the year was high; there clearly was no space for progression within the staff who were already there, and if you were not ‘in' you were ‘out'. The issue here was that there was a tension between was was being communicated, what was happening in the classroom, and what was happening with appointments in staffing as well; The question comes back to values and authenticity. It is definitely worth pointing out here that this is not to say that what was happening was not necessary. Clearly, ‘J' did not have the team she wanted, and so she needed to make a new one. The difficulty is in some of the language that she had taken on from ‘B'. Staff found it hard to accept her as a credible leader in the first instance as she was using the ‘look you in the eye' language in one briefing, and then intentionally making life difficult to move staff on at the same time elsewhere in the school. It certainly seems as though this is consistent with the research discussed earlier that 88% of leaders use transformational techniques, but only 12% are truly transformational. This is an interesting point. Could ‘J' have implemented the changes she required with so many staff, and been consistent with the values she held? The truth is; yes. ‘J' rarely explicitly stated her values to staff, but it is implied that they could be hard work, determination, and she has often stated that the value she holds the most dear is what is best for the students. If it was seen that a member of staff was not fulfilling that in one way or another, they had to either start to, or move on to somewhere else. Again though, it is difficult to give too much weight to the latter, as there are several staff teaching out of subject, and class sizes sometimes of near fifty in the hall for lessons where they can not be routinely staffed. This is a snapshot of education at the moment, but this had started to breed mistrust and scepticism in some areas of the school. This though, is where the idea of Value Led Leadership is applicable. With that school, at that time, in that context, ‘J's values are totally valid. At that time, she did not need to be transformational in the same was as suggested by Burns or Kerzner, as the team she wanted to lead the team was not in place. Over the three year period of her tenure, teaching has improved, standards are higher and the school is for the first time in a decade, looking forward to an Ofsted inspection as a potentially positive experience. Staff wellbeing is starting to be taken seriously, and there are is a sense that the structure that she is aiming for is starting to take shape. The contradiction comes from when ‘what is best for the students' is touted as a core value. It is more likely that it was more about how the school is perceived from the community and media, and that comes from good results, and a good Ofsted inspection. If the values of the leadership are about results and a good Ofsted, that will still bring about positive improvement, so why communicate to the staff it is about the students? It comes back to the issue ‘P' faced, and the idea of transformational leadership. Simon Sinek encourages leaders to ‘start with why' when inspiring as a leader , but what if the ‘why?' is to do with results of the school, Ofsted, and the perception of the school in the media and community? It may actually have the opposite effect, as there is no real moral purpose there, as Covey (2008) suggests. This causes an issue for the leadership, as we have already identified authenticity, moral purpose and clear values and vision as being key for great leadership. Moral purpose is at the centre of transformational leadership, and so it is clear why there is a desire to promote a pupil centred approach. Based on what we know, 'J' cannot lead with transformational leadership, but she can lead with her values and be consistent with those. Had ‘J' been open and honest with her values in the first instance, potentially the trust between the leadership and the followership would have been stronger, and there would have been less scepticism, as staff would be clear on what the journey was for.
To conclude leadership is a broad and complex topic, with so many different views and contributors, it can be daunting to try and forge a path for oneself in leading anyone. In the end, though, it comes down to values. If you have a clear set of values, which are worthy of following, then you can be authentic with yourself, and also to the team or organisation you are leading. If you can be authentic, with a moral purpose connected to your values, then it is likely a culture and climate will follow on from that. Once your culture is established, and people can see that you are genuine, authentic, and have the traits and skills of a leader, people will follow your leadership. This essay has not tried to tackle all of the traits and skills that a leader needs in order to be effective, there is not space for that, more look at what it takes to be a great leader of a school or organisation along with those skills. The answer lies in following your values, and being true to oneself; as simple as it seems, it is reasonable to conclude that if you have the skills to lead, value led leadership can lead you on the right track, and in turn your school or organisation.
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