June 19th, 2014
"I want the WRU to have more new caps coming from the Cynon Valley than any other region. I want the next Wales Commonwealth Games medallists to come from here."
Earlier this month we held our second guest speaker event which is part of our 12 month leadership and development programme for aspiring head teachers.
Once again, deputy heads, acting heads and heads (or teachers with the potential to be) came together to discuss and share ideas about leadership in education. Gareth Thomas, retired Welsh & British & Irish Lions rugby captain spoke at our last event about the importance of understanding yourself before leading others. This month, Sue Davies OBE, the Head Teacher of the new super school in Aberdare which is due to be opened in September 2014 joined us to talk about her own leadership journey and the challenges that she faces and overcomes.
Sue Davies OBE has over 30 years' experience in education and spoke passionately to the cohort about the different leadership skills she practiced to become a successful head teacher and leader within her school. After all,the best teachers aren't always the best leaders, she said.
What Is Your Moral Imperative?
Sue's first challenge was for the teachers in the room to ask themselves what their moral imperative or ethical responsibility is. 'I struggled to read until I was 7, but a fantastic teacher opened the door to books', she told us, adding that 'you are shaped by your background'.
Sue's moral imperative, she says, comes from seeing her grandmother fight to get her mother into university despite living in poverty. It was this that taught Sue that education is for everyone and is what continually inspires her work and efforts in education to this day. "To be an effective leader, you have to create an environment where every pupil matters." Sue said. "We are all equal. Everyone has a right to education".
Innovation & Improvement
Sue's second challenge for the cohort was to look at their schools as businesses and to strive for innovation.
"Head Teachers and senior managers are really bad at managing the whole organisation," Sue explained. She said that very few people would see a school as a business. But that's exactly what it should be seen as, she believes. And part of that business mentality should include and promote innovation.
Explaining her latest innovative idea, placing a shop at the new school, Sue told the group "It's a business opportunity. Think outside the box. Do things that are very different."
Sue said: "We'll sell our own school uniform, stationary, USBs, tea and coffee. We'll use it for charity and make a profit, we can do fair-trade, and forms part of our Welsh baccalaureate work experience. It's a business enterprise opportunity".
Calling on her experiences as head teacher at Cynffig Comprehensive School, Sue said that without innovative thinking, and trying to introduce change, it would have failed its upcoming inspection. Focusing specifically on education and the curriculum aspect of becoming a head teacher, Sue also gave a brilliant example of how teachers and head teachers can innovate within the curriculum to ensure that every student is able to learn (fulfilling her moral imperative that every child has a right to an equal education!). "It's important to think creatively about learning opportunities", Sue stated.
Ask the Difficult Questions
Sue said that a looming inspection once forced her to ask the difficult questions of herself and those who she worked with. The answers to these tough questions she said, were vital to the school improvement and of course passing the inspection.
Sue explained that asking the right questions in the right way at the right time allows for the real problems and issues that are being faced to surface and as a result, be worked upon.
Sue explained that she learnt never to shy away from the hard questions, because without them, nothing can improve. She told the cohort rather boldly, 'don't think you're going to popular. It's a lonely job sometimes" adding that "if you're a popular head teacher, it is likely that your school is rubbish!"
After getting through that inspection, in 2010, Cynffig was named the most value added school in Wales, paying testament to Sue's ideas.
With new state-of-the-art sport facilities soon to be available at the school in Aberdare, Sue explained that her impressive and bold aspiration is for "the WRU to have more new caps coming from the Cynon Valley than any other region. I want the next Wales Commonwealth Games medallists to come from here."
However, Sue readily admits that sporting greatness isn't necessarily an aspiration that would be adopted by all of the schools staff and pupils. She said that "there is no one size fits all for schools, but every child must have aspiration" and a teacher should lead the way in nurturing that.
In an effort to support varying aspirations within her school. Sue says that it "is important to think creatively about learning opportunities". She told the group a story of one child who struggled academically. Despite various interventions and attempts to improve his performance in the classroom, he continued to struggle.
So the school allowed him to grow potatoes. Suddenly he was enthusiastic about coming to school. By Sue's own admission it wasn't the most traditional education. But rather than "disenfranchising" him, she wanted to make sure he was able to learn, albeit in a different way.
Work Life Balance
Sue also spoke about the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Similar to Welsh rugby legend, Gareth Thomas, who spoke at our last event, Sue said it takes dedication, sacrifice, and enjoyment to succeed as a leader and as a head teacher.
She recalled times of answering emails until the early hours of the morning to ensure the school was improving, but also of others where she switched off from work to spend time with her family and relax, something that she says is important for the whole team to do so that their "switched on" time is as productive as it possibly can be.
Sue's stories, anecdotes and advice inspired those in the room to look at the skills need to bring the very best out of themselves self and others. A stimulating morning was had by all!
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss how we can help you develop leadership in education then please get in touch with a member of our team.
01633 415 631
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