How can senior leaders improve their reflective practice?

Strategic thinking and reflection is a crucial aspect of leadership in schools. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the evaluative process from primary school deputy head and inclusion manager Jo Riley. This is from the Guardian…

The first thing is to recognise the importance of building reflection into the fabric of the school – and not just those that may be struggling or working in more challenging environments. To develop and successfully lead a school, you need to take time to pull together evidence and ideas, and evaluate these. This also prevents complacency during the easy times and ensures that viable alternatives are sought quickly when initiatives aren’t having the desired impact.

Without proper reflection, reactions can be knee-jerk and often lead to a quick fix that is not sustainable or could even lower staff morale. For example, if a group of children or a class isn’t progressing as they should, the instinctive reaction is to blame the teacher. Instead, time should be taken to look at the story behind the data. It could be down to teacher competency or it could be due to a whole host of other issues impacting on student performance.

Another reason for having proper reflection time is the need to read and research the latest issues facing schools on a local and political level so that you understand these well. You also need to consider the pedagogical principles behind life in the classroom: education theory does not stand still so you need to keep abreast of the latest insights so you can grow and develop your school community.

From my own experience of improving my reflective practice in leadership, here are some top tips:

• Reflection does not have to be solitary. But it does need to be focused on school improvement, whether that’s on raising standards, improving the wellbeing of staff or other areas you may wish to develop.

• Some of the best times for reflection are when you go to a different location with your senior and middle leaders, even if it’s within the school. Removing yourself from day-to-day events ensures that you can really focus on what you’re trying to do. It helps if the location is a pleasant one and can be enhanced if you bring in someone from outside school to facilitate. Either way, ensure that everyone is clear about the task in hand at the outset and build in time for people to think either individually or in small groups.

• Use the urgent/not urgent and the important/not important Carroll Diagram. This helps to plot timelines,deadlines, unexpected events and those that you can put aside, for now. If you have put an activity in the not important/not urgent quadrant you shouldn’t think about it any further.

• Take time either early in the morning or late at night. Why not carry a notebook so you can always jot down ideas, questions or thoughts as you go.

Since I’ve been trying to improve my reflective practice, I’ve revisited my values as a teacher – why I’m doing this and what I want to achieve for the children. You need to be transparent about why you do what you do, and what you need from the school community. Teachers and senior leadership teams work extremely hard, and working on something you don’t believe in will leave you burnt out or caught out. Staying true to your values and working in a school that echoes these helps to serve as a constant reminder as to why you became a teacher and how your influence will affect the children you serve.

More at:  How can senior leaders improve their reflective practice?

Future Leaders Charitable Trust are looking for 25 primary senior leaders to join 75 secondary senior leaders to start on the programme in September 2013. Applications for primary candidates close on Tuesday 19 March. For further details, click here.

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