7 ways to get school development plans back on track

When Covid is under control, how can you get long-term strategic thinking back on the agenda?

Published in TES March 8th 2021

Covid: How schools can focus on strategic school development

In 1940, when London was in the midst of bombings, fighting an invasion and dealing with the hopelessness of the Second World War, a small number of Education Board members set about planning a new school system. 

This was the makings of the 1944 Education Act which transformed post-war education in Britain. This far-sightedness was key and shows the values of strategic planning – even as all around you is chaos.

A similar situation has unfolded over the past year – and so just as those leaders in the 1940s showed, we must also look forward and think strategically.

Covid: Strategic planning for school development

Here are seven ways we can prioritise strategic school development to help us emerge stronger from the crisis:

1. Start with the positives

The pandemic has “forced” every stakeholder to think about learning on every level – so consider how you can use that as a springboard for new projects. What could, and should, be kept post-pandemic? Blended learning? Hybrid provisions? Remote parents’ evenings? 

It’s been a tough time but let’s not overlook what we have learned, what we have achieved and what is worth keeping for a post-pandemic world.

2. Make time

You will never find the time or have “spare” time so you will need to carve out time within busy schedules. Block time for strategic focus at least once a month and for no less than an hour.  

Ring-fence and protect this time, resisting the temptation to cancel because urgent matters arise. Consider having “future developments” as a set agenda item for all team meetings to ensure that you have a time and focus for forward-thinking. 

3. Return to your mission

Ask “big questions” and plan developments that align with, and work towards, your core purpose, vision and mission. 

What is it that makes your school special? What is important to you? For your learners? For your context? Don’t lose sight of what you were working towards pre-pandemic – it may be you were just starting something with real impact so revisit that when normality returns.

But, of course, the pandemic may have changed so much that returning to the way things were could seem a backward step now – don’t be afraid to ask if your mission is still relevant and, if not, consider how it can be realigned for the new era.

4. Look for ‘inroads’ with wellbeing and creativity

Development projects after a crisis should bring innovation, a sense of “new life” and re-energise the community – creative and wellbeing-orientated ideas could be key for this.

What about a project driven by the arts and linked with positive mental health?  Some schools are now working towards enriching their provision with artists and musicians in residence.

Others are planning a more structured move into practical learning, such as an apprenticeship programme in a primary school setting.   

5. Involve all stakeholders – including pupils

Engage all members of your community in strategic think tank opportunities. 

Children and young people generally demonstrate a flexibility in their thinking, which may lead to creative and innovative projects for everyone to work towards.

The joy brought directly from student ideas will be a welcome distraction for everyone.

6. Seek out the trailblazers  

Do you have staff who embraced the challenges encountered in a crisis and found new ways of working or problem-solving? Could they become early adopters for the next strategy and development plan?

Consider appointing project leaders based on how staff demonstrated their ability, commitment and flexibility whilst working online – is there a leadership programme that these staff can be fast-tracked into where their capabilities can be harnessed?

7. Be bold and look long into the future

Consider a development plan that takes you beyond the next academic year. What about a five-year plan?

The pandemic will not always be disrupting education so resist the urge for strategic conversations to be only about shorter-term items, such as the recovery curriculum, pastoral support on return and academic catch-up plans.

It may not pan out as you imagine but having an overall goal can help to inform decisions that need to be made in the future.

We all need something else to hope for, to think about, to steer us and to remind us that life will return to “normal”, whatever that normal will look like.

 

5 ways to ace recruitment during COVID

How to ace international school teacher recruitment during Covid

Published to TES 16th March 2021

With fewer international teachers moving jobs right now, schools need to stand out from the crowd.

Recruitment is a competitive world in international teaching at the best of times. But during a pandemic it’s even tougher.

Yet this year we have noticed a significant increase in the quality of applicants applying for teaching positions with us.

This has meant we had a number of high-quality candidates when it came to making final decisions and offers. The rise in the number of quality candidates also meant we were lucky enough to finalise our recruitment earlier than in previous years.

So what has made the difference? Why have we been able to attract more candidates than ever before in a time when many international teachers are “staying put” and many others have made the decision to return to the UK due to the uncertainty of the job market and the challenges of Covid?

International schools: Getting teacher recruitment right during Covid

Here is what we did and how your school can do it, too:

1. Make the right impression from the beginning – the devil is in the detail

The job advert itself needs to be personal, brief, non-generic and give an impression of your school’s ethos.

Adverts must also be accurate and free from errors. Any communication with interested candidates by the school should be “professionally friendly”, as well as give a personal feel for the school.

This can be difficult where schools have a large number of applications, but even standard responses can be carefully pre-prepared to give an impression of the school’s ethos and the appearance of personalisation with a little time and effort taken with the standard reply draft.

Timely responses to emails and clear instructions for interview (including the platform to be used, who will be involved in the interviewing and the stages of the process) are all small but important details for candidates that can help start things off strongly.

2. Get personal and ‘overshare’

Give as much information attached to the advert as is necessary to give prospective candidates a “feel” for the school. The standard attachments of job description and safeguarding policy won’t be enough to entice high-quality teachers to apply.

The documents should be personal, reflective of the school’s strengths and easy to read; visuals and infographics are a great tool for this. 

Ideas for additional links/attachments are:

  • A personal letter from the head of school.
  • An infographic about the CPD programme offered to staff.
  • An infographic about what makes the school special or different.
  • A summary of the induction programme (it could be the programme used from last year).
  • On-boarding information.
  • Information about the country and location.
  • Links to the school’s social media and YouTube accounts.

While giving a great impression about the school’s efficiency, information like this also serves in giving clarity and transparency. If the school does not want to publish these documents as part of the advert, a note stating what will be sent within the application pack could be used instead.

3. Create candidate confidence

While the documents attached to the advert will add an element of “candidate confidence”, there are other things schools can do to ensure potential staff are drawn into applying. The school website is one of the most important recruitment tools.

Make sure that the website demonstrates the following easily within as few clicks as possible:

  • Membership of any associations (especially those linked to CPD).
  • Awards (again any that refer to HR, leadership and innovation will influence and encourage quality applications).
  • Accreditations and/or “inspection” reports.
  • Videos – linked to a YouTube account with virtual tours, interviews with students and interviews with current staff articulating why they like working at the school.

4. Career advancement opportunities

Make sure that career advancement and CPD opportunities feature heavily within the advert, in the uploaded information and within the website.

This is often a big pull for candidates who are looking for leadership opportunities in the future. Less experienced teachers will also be keen to know about the approach to early career development.

Does your school run an associate programme for developing leaders? How do you ensure continuous professional development? Does the school support external CPD in the form of staff scholarships for master’s degrees? All of this needs to be clear to entice quality candidates to apply.

5. Plan for reputation growth 

Make a list of three things you want to be recognised for within the global community and then focus on projecting this within your wider interactions. In 2018, one of the primary phase development plan targets at Sri KDU International School was: to raise the reputation of the school within the local and regional arena.

There were clear success criteria for this:

  • Candidates interviewing for positions were able to articulate the strengths of the school when asked, “Why do you want to come and work for us?”
  • Current staff were able to clearly articulate three common strengths of the school.
  • When the school’s name was mentioned in social conversations outside of school, other parties would know the school name and would recognise it as a reputable establishment.
  • Enrolment numbers over time would rise.
  • Recruitment and retention would be easier.

We focused on pushing ourselves forward to lead local networks, increasing our social media interactions, delivering free webinars and becoming more involved in larger educational organisations.

In the long term, recruitment for international schools could potentially become more challenging. Covid has left many international school teachers with a sense of uncertainty and longing for stability. Schools will need to work harder than ever to make sure they have a field of quality applicants to draw from.

Seven tips for Professional Development (without a training course in sight!)

Published in TES 2nd April 2021

Teacher CPD: 7 ways to boost your skills without going on a training course

In all the interviews I have conducted in my time as a headteacher, I always ask candidates about their Professional Development and how it has impacted their practice. Without fail, nine out of ten will reference a recent training course. 

While there’s nothing wrong with that answer of course, I like to see examples of times when teachers are being proactive in seeking out their own ways to develop their professional skill sets too.

There are plenty of ways it can be done – here are seven that can help get you started.

  1. Read! Listen! Watch!

From books to blogs, podcasts to audiobooks, there is a wealth of learning material available to teachers. If you have no time to read full books, then short articles online are a great way of gaining insights into a specialist area, widen your experience or simply understand an issue from a different perspective.   

Of course everyone is busy and reading widely is not always possible – this is where podcasts and audiobooks are a great professional development tool which allows for multitasking, meaning listeners can use their time much more efficiently. 

Try finding one to listen to on the commute to work, for your next jog or to keep you entertained while cooking.

  1. Start a research project or initiative within your school

Although you would need permission from your Senior Leadership Team for a new classroom project, most forward thinking SLTs would welcome something of this nature. 

Beginning a research project or starting an initiative within your school will provoke your creative spark, open up relationships within the school team and hone your leadership experience. 

You could also publish your findings, helping you cultivate a well rounded resume which highlights your hands on experience as well as showcases your leadership with concrete evidence.    

  1. Find a mentor or coach

Many experienced school leaders have a ‘pay it forward’ mentality, meaning they would gratefully mentor and coach a colleague for free in an informal manner, while many coaches need clients in order to qualify for coaching qualifications. 

There are opportunities out there to build connections, so have a look online or within your existing network. 

Alternatively you might gain some insight from following a prominent leadership coach on social media or you could even consider paying for a professional coach.

  1. Build connections

The motivational speaker Jim Rohn coined a famous saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If he is to be believed, then it’s essential that we learn to keep good company. 

Start by evaluating your professional networks. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram can open up a wealth of connections that allow the possibility for engaging conversations and opportunities.

You may not hit it off 100% of the time but engaging the right sort of connections in conversation can help open up new avenues for you career and professional development that may lead to all kinds of benefits you can talk about. 

  1. Lead development for others

There is no better way to learn yourself than to teach others. We have probably all used this technique in the classroom, but don’t always follow our own advice. Volunteer to be a mentor. 

Ask if you can lead a CPD twilight course, or assist another leader in delivering training. Step up and help yourself by helping others.

  1. Write articles of interest

Writing will make you think about interesting topics more deeply and give you an opportunity to learn while you write. You can write about anything that interests you or ignites your curiosity. Not all of your writing needs to be published, but if you want to have a place to collect your articles then you can start your own blog for free and with next to zero IT knowledge. This can then be shared on your Linkedin profile or shared using social media.  

  1. Complete a 360 evaluation

A 360 evaluation can increase your self awareness, giving you a more balanced view of your own performance and uncover ‘blind spots’ you might not have noticed.

 To do a 360 evaluation, you could find a free version online and ask trusted colleagues to complete it for you, or you could construct your own using Google Forms.  

There is a common thread within all these tips: when it comes to Professional Development drive it yourself. 

There will always be a place for training courses, but teachers need to be learners in the widest sense. That means being active with your own development, adopting a spirit of active inquiry, open reflection and ownership.