At my last school, our headteacher was fond of reminding staff that schools are “hope dealers”. Every staff member is responsible to communicate a hope and belief in each child’s ability to achieve their personal best by building on previous successes and struggles.
This reminder came invariably at the beginning of every academic year and a handful of moments throughout the school year — report writing, parent conferences, exam season, etc. As I tried to find her source to reference in this blog, I was a bit lost.
Many people have appropriated this phrase or some version of it. Refine your search to include “education” you’ll see what I mean. Eventually, I traced it. Napoleon Bonaparte. He said, “One can lead a nation only by helping it see a bright outlook. A leader is a dealer in hope.”
That last sentence is the stuff of Pinterest inspiration boards and business leadership slide decks. Regardless of the potential or cliché or your opinion of Napoleon, I think there is some value applying it to an educational context. Schools provide a form of leadership to their students and larger community.
What are your aspirations for the school you lead in the coming year? How are last year’s successes and struggles the foundation of what you hope for this year? To contextualise Napoleon for your unique school culture and setting, try to define what hope means for you. In the coming year, I hope that __________.
Based on my experience, I have a few suggestions to help today's principals and school leaders make the most of their hopes this year.
Set some measurable goals (hopes)
Take a look back at last year. Involve your entire SLT team. What are the test results, parent and staff surveys, inspection reports, teacher evaluation notes and the rest telling you?
Use all this data to provide you with the bigger picture. This is not always easy when you have data across lots of different systems which is why many schools use excel spreadsheets. Here at Firefly we have worked hard to develop an all encompassing insights tool. This is where leaders can track student experience and quality of teaching, cohort by cohort, term by term, across all learning spaces.
Once you have collated the data, use whatever goal writing model you want - SMART, EXACT, GROW, etc. It’s less about the language so much as it is about giving shape to a specific hope. I’d recommend setting goals that cover a range of aspects of daily school life.
- What is your hope for teacher workload this year?
- What is your hope for parental engagement?
- What is your hope for the kind of teaching and learning that happens in your classrooms?
- What is your hope for student academic achievement?
- What is your hope for school culture and values?
- What is your hope for office staff, TA’s and other support staff?
- What is your hope for management of school resources?
I could carry on parsing aspects of school life, but I think the point is clear enough. Framing your hopes for the upcoming school year as goals will make them actionable, born from the unique needs of your school.
Communicate those hopes
Goals don’t mean anything until you have shared them. Everything I have written up to this point is just a mental exercise if you don’t involve your larger school community. Once you and your team have finalised the wording, share these hopes with the relevant stakeholders. What hopes do you need to communicate to students? Staff? Parents? Governors?
By sharing your goals, you are holding yourself and the school accountable to pursuing those goals. Yes, I chose “pursuing” not “achieving”. We all know that schools are a confluence of myriad factors that we can and cannot control. Some hopes will be entirely within your control to achieve; others will involve more risk and variability. It is OK to acknowledge that. By sharing these hopes, you are encouraging the rest of your school community to aspire and reach for a larger vision with you.
Consider how you might use a blog or a forum to share your hopes for the year. With Firefly you can easily recommend these pages to your school community. These page templates will also allow you to solicit feedback and input by enabling comments. You could also use a form if you want to receive feedback more privately.
If you are going to share your hopes, share ownership too. With shared ownership, you are giving everyone a chance to engage. Everyone is on the same team. What aspects of your hopes will students be responsible to accomplish? How can parents contribute?
Shared ownership takes some thought. It’s a delicate balance, and you know your school community best. Try to develop specific ways that different groups can contribute, for example:
- To improve reading scores in a particular Key Stage, perhaps parents could volunteer to come in regularly for students to read aloud to them
- If younger students need math remediation, older students can be involved as tutors to facilitate an after school support club
- All students and staff can be involved in a recycling program to improve management of school resources
With a bit of thought, you can get the whole school community involved in a way that values them and their ability to contribute. Firefly engages all stakeholders including teachers, students, parents and leaders. Using forms and personal pages, staff and students can easily develop, evidence progress and easily share these using inbuilt tools.
Keep a pulse on your hopes
Goal setting is more than just a one time launch. Find a way to collate and monitor progress. At my prior school, our leadership team put together a form for staff to fill out once a month at the beginning of a staff meeting. Staff could share positive stories about students and their growth. Leadership would begin the next staff meeting by sharing a few stories with staff. It was a part of a larger intervention goal. By giving time for teachers to fill out the form and then sharing out some examples, the leadership team developed one data set and valued the investment it requires from everyone involved. How might you gather and track your school’s progress? How can everybody be involved in that process?
Promote the progress too. As you look ahead to the year, book in time to share updates on how the school is progressing towards each of these hopes. There are a host of edtech tools such as social media feeds that you might find useful.
Many Firefly Schools use blogs and news stories to engage the whole school community with the latest progress. Through the curated views they ensure that only the relevant news stories are promoted to key stakeholders.
Here is some inspiration to get you started
Last year as part of our Heroes journey we recognised leaders who have been instrumental in driving a modern learning experience for their students, parents and teachers. Here are some of their aspirations:
“Inspiring young minds with a love of learning and the opportunity to champion their natural talents, in a uniquely modern environment” - Downsend School, Ian thorpe, UK
“Empowering and inspiring all of our pupils, whatever their ability, to achieve their potential, encouraging the development of a responsible and confident approach to life.” - Andrew Skelding, Endon High School, UK
“Our aim is to let the passion and talents of all of our pupils flourish, in an innovative and forward thinking environment.” - St Paul’s Sao Paulo, Brazil
The whole year is ahead of you. I hope that you begin the year full of hopes for your students, staff and everyone who makes your school what it is. I also hope that you begin the school year full of open minds and engaged hearts for another year of learning.
If you would like some help with quantifying and qualifying these hopes or achieving a modern learning experience for your whole school community feel free to get in touch. Our consultants have worked with many leading schools around the world in achieving this and would be happy to help.