On being a School Governor

I’ve been a School Governor now for about 5-6 years and continue to enjoy the experience. I am currently a Chair of Governors at a Primary school local to me as that is where both my children attended. My oldest son has already moved on to secondary school and my youngest is in his last year and will be making his transition to secondary in September.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to share what I have learnt, what I’m thinking and some of the questions I have.  Over the last few months I’ve started to reflect on my time as a governor in the following areas and have unpacked these further in this post, they are: the purpose of primary schools, the role and effectiveness of governors locally and nationally and the opportunity for professional and personal learning within schools as a governor.

Are we clear on the purpose of a Primary School or is this being compromised?

In my time as a school governor I’ve seen first hand that schools are challenged to meet multiple demands and multiple expectations and on the whole, the staff do amazing work in trying to balance all the pressures of daily school life which are on top of actually providing education for children.

In the School where I am a Governor, we define our purpose as “help and support every child to be the best they can be”  This has helped us to define our priorities and our approach including, thinking about how we use and deploy staff, how and  where we invest money for impact and intervention and importantly how we know we are doing the right things.

Schools are doing so much more than just providing education (in a traditional sense)  – they are active in providing social work, health intervention, family support, community development and now in increasing financial austerity fundraisers and business managers.  I’ve witnessed that all these things are absolutely critical to get right especially as all children’s lives (indeed everyone’s lives) are complex and to ensure that children are ready and able to learn you need to invest time and energy in the other areas to help and ensure children can be the best they can be.

For a number of years now there has been an even greater focus on austerity which has led to some instances of decisions being driven by money as opposed to being driven by what is the best outcome for the children. This by default makes the purpose “manage the money” as opposed to providing education…the significant drive and focus on money is so strong in the current climate that it makes it extremely difficult to stay focused on the true purpose.

It is clearly fundamental to ensure you stay financially stable but a trend in forcing schools to operate more like businesses is creating additional pressures and work which schools are not necessarily resourced for and this simply puts direct pressure on Head Teachers, teachers and support staff which in turn increases the pressures and stresses in the system.  So I ask myself how much activity and work is actually focused on meeting the primary purpose as opposed to meeting false purposes such as managing money?

In addition a wider question I ask myself is – if you have these multiple pressures and demands then does this affect the purpose of a primary school or its ability to meet its purpose?  My experience and observations tell me this is the case.

Adler suggests that there are three objectives of children’s schooling: (Adler, 1982)

  • the development of citizenship,
  • personal growth or self-improvement, and
  • occupational preparation.

The interesting thing to me is that the main external high-level measure of success is focused on the Key Stage 2 SATS results (Maths, English – reading and writing etc). This is often directly related to whether a school is rated highly within the inspection framework.  So I ask myself how do attainment results tell me that a school is meeting its purpose and how does the inspection framework tell me a school is meeting purpose?  Unless the purpose is ‘make the attainment results come true’ or ‘meet the numbers’

The importance of measuring success and being clear about what good looks like is critical if we want to see primary schools developing the foundations of learning, the disciplines of personal growth, self-improvement and personal mastery. If we want to see schools creating environments where tolerance, respect and equality are promoted as the basis of being good citizens and if we want to support and invest in the future by stimulating the minds of children so they are curious, courageous and compassionate to face the challenges of the future in relation to our society and economy.

I guess what I am saying is I’m not seeing any evidence that the current external measures of success in schools tell anyone whether we are creating those things stated instead I see measures that focus attention on money and test results?  Before I become a governor my only really measure of a school was an inspection report and grade, but now after being a governor, I have developed a deeper knowledge and understanding of what really happens and understood the purpose in a different way. There is a big disconnect here which is driving the wrong behaviours!

The role and effectiveness of Governors and how do we know we measure success effectively

Sometimes in my time as a governor, I have felt like a proxy inspector as opposed to an effective and active part of the school leadership. This behaviour is not explicitly encouraged but becomes implied when you understand the inspection framework but this is counter productive as inspecting the school as a governor does not promote or create a culture of continued and mutual learning.  I see the role of a School Governor as the following:

  1. Being clear on Our Purpose – This is a clear, simple statement(s) of what we are here to do as a school.
  2. Being clear on Our Measures and understanding what good measures look like. These are the mechanisms by which we judge our effectiveness in meeting our Purpose. This will inevitably include understanding how the external measures contribute or not to helping us understand our effectiveness.
  3. Agreeing and having clarity on Our Principles. These guide how we carry out our work and help to make real the shared leadership and the shared vision.
  4. Setting a framework for Our Policies. These set out what we will do in carrying out aspects of our work and must contribute to helping those in the work meet the purpose.
  5. Being accountable to and being clear on Our Key Tasks. These are actions that we have to perform on a regular or ad-hoc basis (as detailed in the Annual Cycle).  This is where we ensure we can be held accountable to our legal responsibilities which include staying financially stable and secure.  This is also how we triangulate our understanding and knowledge of whether we are meeting purpose and measuring the right things.

The inherent pressures of inspections and the inevitable price that is paid by people (mostly Head Teachers) when the inspection reports are not as good as the inspectors would want to see is unfair and simply promotes a culture of fear and drives activity to “cover your back”. This is made even worse in the context of the academies agenda as the pressure to be seen to be meeting the targets is creating perverse behaviours and the consequences of which are directly affecting children we should be focusing on. In the current landscape if your school is seen by the inspection framework as failing then the likelihood of that school being forced to become an academy is increased significantly and in most cases, this is the only action to be taken.  The assumption underpinning this action is that Academies are better at delivering good or outstanding schools. I’m yet to see the evidence that supports this.

In reality, the evidence I see and can validate is that school leaders, teachers, support staff and everyone working in and around schools is lots and lots of hard work to try to create new and different experiences for children on top of all the activity which is expected by the current system drivers of “meet the numbers and targets for testing.”  But what I can’t say with confidence is whether all of the work they are all doing is meeting purpose and is contributing effectively…What I need to understand is what really gets in the way of a Primary School meeting its purpose and what can I do as a governor to remove the barriers and blockages.

This dilemma and conflict can only really be resolved by leaders and this is something I find fascinating.  The question I find myself asking here is, ‘does the system know who the leaders are, what are current leaders doing to understand and build their knowledge of why the current system is the way it is and are those leaders connecting with each other?’

Personal and Professional Learning and the opportunity to develop insights into organisational change and culture.

In my day job, I work in Organisational Change and my role is to support leaders to see and think differently so that services are designed around understanding what matters to citizens and clarity of purpose.

The opportunity I have as a school governor to develop my practice and learning is incredibly rich and diverse and this as a side benefit of wanting to help and support my local school keep me motivated and determined to be the best I can be.

The learning, however, is not simply one way. I had originally held an assumption that I would be offering my time and energy and wouldn’t really learn anything other than “school governance”. However the more I understand the thinking and approaches being used within primary schools the more those models become more visible to me in an organisational change context.

An example of this is the way in which primary schools have mainstreamed reflective practice and focusing on mastery of self. In my previous role as Digital Lead, I used to think that the most significant impact on organisations in the future would be technology and the disruption of that technology. Clearly, those disruptions will be present a fundamental challenge, but for me, the behaviours and values being promoted and recognised which underpin the approaches in Education will have a deeper and more profound impact unless organisations recognise the deeper cultural shift that is symbolised by the age of the internet.

Another example is promoting a growth mindset for children, the shift in the school now is that it understands that unless adults model and understand the growth mindset aswell children will not believe it as they will mirror and model the behaviours of the adults…this is exactly the same dilemma in organisations where leaders are not living the values and behaviours they promote.

On the whole, being a school governor has helped me develop and practice skills and learn new and different ones too. Schools and in particular primary schools are a fascinating place to be and I would highly recommend connecting with your local school and asking whether you can help in some way. if you are passionate about the future of our society, primary schools are a great place to learn about and experience what the future looks and feels like.

 

 

 

 

 

Coding clubs

As a parent of two young boys who love computer games, the Wii, minecraft (pocket edition and full PC version), lego, swimming and generally most outdoors things. Also as a School Governor at a Primary school I was really interested to stumble upon the website for code club and instantly thought it was such an amazing idea, that i should help ensure that one is set up at my local primary school.

I was reminded of the work the Emma Mulqueeny does at Young Rewired State and thought there is a similarity and perhaps a cross over but that doesn’t matter as the main thing is that kids are getting the chance to learn and practice coding.

Anyway I’ve contacted the IT Co-ordinator at the school and have already searched the site and found three possible volunteers – so will see what we can set up. I think this would be a great opportunity  for the school and the kids.

[Edited – 4th September]

I forgot to mention when I originally wrote this that this is also a really good example of the Education capability as it starts to build awareness, understanding and competency into young people and the wider community.

The 2.0 club, future of local government and white board paper!

On Tuesday I attended a meeting with colleagues at the Met Office and Gov 2.0 radio crew (John Wells and Allison Hornery).

It was a great opportunity to meet John and Allison face to face for the first time as well as have some interesting conversations and discussion. I really enjoyed listening to them and they reminded me of some simple truths as well as enlightening me with some insights.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Michael Saunby from the Met Office (a real geek as well, in a good way) – he was knowledgable, passionate and his enthusiasm was infectious. His attitude inspired me to be that bit more bold, bit more persistent and to continue nudging people across the council.

So what did I take from the session, well more than I expected really, so I’m going to take each thing in turn.

The power of story telling

Now working in communications you’d think story telling was something we did all the time, well I don’t think we tell stories in the way they need to be told in order to really create some social impact…in some cases we do, but on the whole we report council news, release political updates, report policy or issue statements. We are changing this and I’m almost being unfair on what my colleagues do, but I hope that this post will explain why I’m saying this.

Local government is considered the most efficient part of the public sector, it may not feel that way to some working in it, but Its approach to overheads, shared services, senior salaries and procurement put central government’s approach to shame.

It’s also considered the most trusted part of government. It is the most obvious place where genuine and meaningful democratic discussion and debate with citizens and users about how the wider public service offer can best be delivered. But this is in the context of severe budget pressures, modelled up to 2018/2019 where the sector is pretty much going to be in a position to only fund social care!!

One of the key challenges we have in addressing this future is by fundamentally rethinking how we deliver and ensure services are provided where they are needed.

This is where story telling comes in for me, the shift that will take place over he next few years will be radical, rapid and far-reaching and doesn’t just require a change in thinking about responsibilities and services from the public sector but also citizens, communities and individual people need to rethink their role in society. We need to find, share and tell the stories of our communities, of our services, of our people to influence a wider shift in society to even consider being able to address the future challenges.

When John was sharing his insights on story telling and gov2.0 in its broadest sense he reminded me of the 3 components of social impact driven out of the book “the tipping point” by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.) John pointed out that you need:

  • knowledge (mavens)
  • story tellers (salesmen)
  • networkers (connectors)

Without these three components (and the book cites many examples of this) effective large-scale social impact isn’t really achievable.

We need to decide what role we play in any given situation, sometimes we will be more than one, but my view is that as a sector we certainly can’t be all three. So we need to ensure that we connect with the right networks, understand where the local knowledge hubs in communities are and who the local story tellers are…So coming back to my comment about whether I’m being unfair on my colleagues, I know that they understand this wider context and challenge and we are changing the way we work so we can start to contribute to telling these stories. So it isn’t unfair, more of a healthy reminder to us all.

We underestimate the role of citizens and education in shaping the future of public services

I’m not one for staying focused on the doom and gloom of the future – where some may see a dire situation, I see opportunity.
I hear lots from people across the public sector referring to engaging with citizens, co-designing services and all of the other collaborative methods – but we don’t hear much about citizens designing services with themselves at the core of the delivery – I know there are many examples but the overall focus still seems to put local government and other public sector organisations in a default position as service provider – but with a new redesigned view of it.

Looking ahead however that simply isn’t going to cut it, local government can’t be considered the default service provider – citizens, communities and individuals will need to think long and hard about the real needs they have and how these can be met. Even commissioning isn’t going to go far enough in my view…the future will be very, VERY different.

The reason I also refer to education (schools) is that as a father of two young children, I started to think about what opportunities there were in education to create and foster a new level of social awareness and responsibility – I mean beyond the basic citizenship stuff you hear about – I mean developing core competences such as resilience, responsiveness, creativity and social entrepreneurial skills. I also have to think long and hard about my role as a parent and what behaviours I model. As Spiderman said “with great power comes great responsibility” :).

About 12 years ago I used to work as a sustainable development project officer and the majority of what people were saying then is what we should already be doing (the difference now is technology really isn’t a barrier any more), I just hope that as a society we actually make the right choices over the coming years and look at our own impact not just in environment terms but what impact we have in and on our communities.

A lick of paint simply isn’t enough

So two things have happened recently that have really confirmed this view in my eyes.

1) We recently put some white board paper up in the office as we weren’t allowed a white board…that single act of creating a visually creative space changed the way I viewed our space at work and has already reaped benefits which simply weren’t there before…there is something about having space to draw, doodle, share ideas and sometimes technology isn’t the answer as there are lots of online tools that could have done this for us.

2) During my trip to the met office we got to visit the Think Space room which basically was a boring meeting room refurbished into a truly creative space, comfy chairs, white boards, flip charts, mini pool table…the kind of place that invite and stimulate conversation, which it did, we only went to view, but spent nearly an hour having a reflective conversation as well as a really good discussion about innovation and change.
My point here is that we need to do more than simply paint an office – we need to also create the right environment to allow people to be creative, innovative and think differently. This is a challenge when the current thinking is we need to get as many people into our offices as possible to help us reduce the amount of properties we operate from, therefore saving money!!

As a school governor of a primary school I’ve been lucky enough to experience a school where each class has a role play area, not just the young kids (key stage 1) but throughout the whole school. The benefit of this is that children learn best through play, acting out experiences and making sense of the world around them. It truly is a wonderful thing to see and to hear about.

My point is that the physical environment is a key part of this and we shouldn’t underestimate the role this has in enabling people to discover and imagine a new future.

This also goes for our community spaces, not just the offices we work in…I sometimes wonder whether we have lost our natural desire to be explorers, innovators and community driven people. But maybe people simply feel disconnected to those things by the sterile nature of our streets, towns, villages and office spaces.

In a previous post I referred to a video of John Tolver (CTO of the City of Chicago) and the difference in his role where he takes a truly enterprise wide view of technology…it goes beyond his organisational barriers and into the wider community. His role and the people who created it, realise that fostering a new society as well as transforming the council go hand in hand.

 

The power of reflective thinking…

Reflection, Imitation, Experience
Reflection, Imitation, Experience By Rickydavid on Flickr

I’ve not blogged as much as I used to, partly because I’ve been really busy (or lazy) and my draft posts and rough reflections don’t get finished like they used to (again lazy), but also because sometimes it is worth just taking stock and reflecting on what has happened, what is happening and what needs to happen.

Last year I started a personal journey of reflection which has developed into more of a regular and critical part of my personal learning and development. Going through two restructure processes last year helps you think about what you believe your key strengths are and what you actually want to do and more importantly who you want to be…Part of this story of reflection has already been told, so won’t dwell on it further here, other than to say, focusing on your strengths and understanding them, I mean really understanding what they are is a very powerful and enlightening experience – a process which was supported in a blog post by Kate Hughes on strengths 2.0, where she managed to conduct some kind of online questionnaire to explore some of her strengths. She states…

This approach immediately resonated with me. A weakness I’ve carried through my career is my lack of attention to detail (something necessary in my field). I’ve developed techniques to manage it; re-reading with a fresh pair of eyes, using spell check and asking colleagues to proof read documents I’ve produced. But it always feels uncomfortable for me and no matter how much I kick myself when I make mistakes, I don’t seem to be able to overcome my weakness.
Once I’d identified my strengths (through an online questionnaire that you access through a code in the book) I could see that detail was never going to be my thing and it would make more sense to focus on what I’m good at. According to the questionnaire, my strengths were: Futuristic, Ideation, Strategic, Activator and Significance. I think it summed me up to a tee.

Back in January at #UKGC12 on the second day, I suggested and then spent pretty much most of the day attending a session on “reflective practice”. Initially it was suggested because there was a spare room and I had a bit of a hangover if I’m honest, so the quiet space seemed an ideal opportunity to simply “recover” – the silence, the space, the time was truly valuable.

I remember reading a blog post after UKGC12 by IceRunner which summarised the session held by Lloyd Davis on new kinds of conversations and the value of silence… I really like this quote…

One of the themes that kept recurring was that of ‘nothing’. How the natural pauses became less awkward as time went on, how we strip pauses and filler noises such as ‘um’ and ‘err’ out of a conversation when transcribing it. How ‘efficient’ communication makes no place for gaps, and how much information is contained in the gaps between words; how silence in a song can add an undefinable quality; to what extent our self-image is defined by others’ opinions of us, creating a space within which our self-image exists.

BUT I ended up learning a lot from the silence, the time, the space, the company (although conversation was sporadic and random) it all helped reflect on learning and also a range of other things.

So continuing the theme of reflection – readers of this blog will be aware that I also work part-time with Public-i – This has provided me with a lot of learning and also further reflection and has also helped me understand and prove to myself the strengths that I thought I had are actually real and can be of benefit to other people and organisations…that is a reassuring process which I’m lucky to be able to get.

The double-edged sword of working with Public-i is that on one side I get to be involved in some really fascinating projects which are generally in and around the Brighton area and also meet some very inspiring people in the process…what isn’t to love about this opportunity…on the other hand however for me this has simply inspired me to think about my own local community and how I can and should be doing more to improve it, connect people together and take forward and extending other people’s ideas into my local area. One example project which i believe has huge potential in my community as well as linking with my local school is Casserole (a futuregov project).

I’m hoping we can incorporate this thinking with the school and children’s centre, as we have starting talking about a community kitchen and garden project…I’ve no idea exactly how this will turn out, but we have some ideas, some assets, some resources and importantly some passion to at least see what can happen with it…It is this type of thing that I feel I want to do more of…These kinds of projects which make a real difference on local people. Now I know i can do that with Public-i but not in my local area and that is something which is important to me…It may take longer, it may be more frustrating but if successful my family will benefit directly from it which is why it is worth taking forward.

At this point in time I’m reminded of a great quote from Martin Howitt’s blog on being awesome

I don’t want to be chasing my own dreams on my own. I don’t want to stand out and be awesome.

If I have to sit in meetings all day nudging things forward inch by painful inch rather than being the swashbuckling, disruptive Lone Ranger to make that happen? Ok then.

What I love about Martin’s quote is that he simply wants to make things better, he isn’t after personal glory, he is more interested in being part of a team, chipping away at a wider challenge and pushing things forward, one day at a time…I really admire this viewpoint.

I’ve come to realise, more so in the last year than at any other time in my 16 years working for local government that I really love working for local government – I really do – you’d think that I would have already had that view, I mean 16 years is a long time working for one organisation, but I don’t think i really appreciated what opportunities you actually have to make a difference to other people’s lives.

It couldn’t be a more challenging time to work in local government, it couldn’t be a more financially challenging time, but yet within this context, I am meeting and seeing more and more great people – passionate about doing things differently, thinking differently and full of energy – It is very reassuring and something I thought wouldn’t happen as you see and read about lots of really amazing people leaving the sector and moving on to new challenges.

I’ve also learnt that (and i think this has become more pronounced since becoming a parent) getting involved in voluntary work in my community – I have developed a stronger and deeper passion for my local area and how it can be improved. I feel like I’ve become more of an active citizen and experiencing the projects with Public-i have brought these things into perspective more as I’ve seen and heard from people who are doing exactly that in their community.

The next few years will not be about doing more for less, the same for less or even less for less, it has to and must be about doing things differently. I for one want to be part of the journey and am grateful that I have that opportunity in Devon and in my local community.

Gaming to re-engage boys in learning – Ted Talk

As a Dad to two boys as well as a Parent Governor at my boys school and as a fan of Gaming to help change the world, this video was pretty much certain to be on my watch list.

I’ve been fascinated with the subject of gaming for a little while now and in particular around the subject of citizen participation. A previous post titled “World of Govcraft” and its follow-up “More World of Govcraft” were inspired by Joanne Jacobs and another Ted Talks video with Jane McGonigal.

It is a very interesting video and also touches on a subject which is close to my heart (male teachers as role models) if you are interested in Education and Learning then I recommend spending the 13 minutes it takes to watch it.

Ali Carr-Chellman pinpoints three reasons boys are tuning out of school in droves, and lays out her bold plan to re-engage them: bringing their culture into the classroom, with new rules that let boys be boys, and video games that teach as well as entertain.