Category Archives: Rapport

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu

As a teacher of some thirty years, I have often seen students with talent and ability throw it all away. The reasons are different, but the waste of opportunity is always the same. Recently I met an ex student in a deserted street, I had sadly permanently excluded him when I was Principal. These situations are never pleasant and I wondered how he would react all these years later.

Luke* noticed me almost as soon as I noticed him. He crossed the street and came right up to me blocking my passage on the pavement. He put out his hand and greeted me in a jovial fashion. I shook it and smiled back as my heart rate and adrenaline levels slowly decreased. He told me he was doing well now and that he had a girlfriend, a job and a flat of his own. He went on to say he was pleased I had taken a hard stance with him, because it was what he needed to make him recognise where he was headed. I cannot tell you the joy that I felt in my heart when we had finished talking. The heartache at the time was all worthwhile. Luke* was only one of two students I had to make the decision to admit we had failed. I now realise that with Luke* we had not failed, but made the right decision to help him on his first step to success.

Recently more so than ever before, I have noticed an increasing lack of willingness by students to even try to answer a question or start a task. For some reason they seem scared of getting it wrong. They do not want to see scored out work or teacher crosses on their pristine work. I am doing my best to get students to have a go and explain I really do not mind if they get it wrong. I deliberately do not rub out my work on the board anymore if I get something wrong. I put a line through it. I actively go overboard at thanking students who have a go at a question but don’t quite get it correct. Later in the lesson or the following one, I will quietly check with this student that they now know the answer. Then you guessed it – I ask them in front of everyone and they give the right answer so being rewarded with a merit (or chocolate or sticker). They have learned from making a mistake.

I told a class about Thomas Edison and how he is reported to have exclaimed “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that did not work” when experimenting with the light bulb.  A lad said “That is inspirational Miss”. I thought he was being flippant, but afterwards he told me he really did find it a good way to look at things.

James and David* did not see how their continued low level disruptive behaviour was affecting their teacher. This is where I came in to try and assist as I was coaching this particular teacher. They did not see that it affected the work they completed or that they did not understand much of the content being taught. James and David* failed to recognise that some of their class mates were getting frustrated by their antics. The more the teacher tried to discipline them, the sillier they became. The class teacher was using all the tools available to her and when she finally had to send them out I took the opportunity to work with them.

We went into the Science work room. I placed four sheets of sugar paper around the room on the walls.

You may not be able to discern exactly what is written on each sheet, however just by looking at the number of comments it is possible to unpick their thinking.

It was so interesting to see James and David* work together on this task and the sudden realisation that carrying on the way they were was not going to get them to their destination or preferred future.HTC 1658

HTC 1656

This task was adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente on the Cycle of Change. Both boys were certainly in the precontemplation phase during the lesson. They did not realise that their behaviour was having an effect on their future or that of others. It was just a bit of a laugh to pass the time of day.

When I set them a task with the four questions posed above, they were made to think about change and how it would benefit them or how it would be a drawback. The speed of realisation was quite fast and they were both very honest about how the process made them think about what they were doing.

A summary of the stages in the Cycle of Change

  1. Precontemplation : I’m not even thinking about change/ I did not realise there was a    problem
  2. Contemplation: I may change or I may not – I am thinking about it
  3. Decision: I have decided to change / I have decided not to change
  4. Active Changes: I have started to change
  5. Maintenance : I am keeping up with the change/ I have changed
  6. Relapse : I have gone backwards

It is important as a coach to recognise and remind yourself  that you cannot bring about change in another person. They must want to change themselves. It is their choice to decide whether to make a change or not.

After doing the task, I asked David and James* what they thought about the future and explained to them whatever they did was a choice. They were making a decision.

James said he felt that sounded “heavy” and he had never really thought about it before as being a choice. David said he felt ashamed he was affecting other people’s chances in the class as he was not too bothered about his future as his Dad would always have a job for him. He however was the student saying how hard it was to think and maybe he was doing it because he had lost the knack of thinking through a problem.

As always in a school, life is governed by the bell and the boys went off to their next lesson. The thing that struck me most about this session was that I did not have to do or say anything other than to ask them to be honest and answer the questions on the sugar paper. I have brought the horse to water – will it drink is the question?

I have had many such conversations with young people over the past thirty years and most where I did the “telling” rather than facilitating. I look back to the first part of the blog and wonder if I could have prevented myself and Luke from a lot of angst if I had let him do more of the talking.

*Names have been changed to protect their identity.

Further Reading:

Prochaska,J.O , Norcross, J.C and DiClemente, C.C. ( 2007) Changing for Good, William Morrow & Co.


Questions for a new Head

What questions would give you the most information about your new school and help you fit in to your new team?

The scenario:

You are the new Head teacher- congratulations! You have a team of experienced leaders in situ, some who have perhaps been there from the start of their teaching career and risen through the ranks. The knowledge they have about the school, staff, pupils, governors, buildings and local community are second to none. Well- certainly better than yours especially if you have come from outside the area.

I have seen head teachers come and go, the ones who have got the best out of me (as their deputy) have believed I have the knowledge and experience. They have had a 1-1 with me well before they start the post and then continued to meet on a timetabled and regular basis. The worst head I worked with made me believe in them initially because of their seemingly passionate and strong beliefs about the doing the best for disadvantaged students. I even stopped looking for my own headships at this point because I believed I would learn a lot from this person. In hindsight this was the worst thing I could have done. At the point of entry of the new worst Head, I had done my NPQH, been selected for and completed the Trainee Head teacher programme and been really successful in my placement school as an Associate Head. This article is not about me feeling sorry for myself at all, I did learn a lot but mostly about how not to do things!

The worst head ( whom I shall call WH from now on) did not meet with us individually at all before starting.  We were an amazing team of people who had led the school to its best set of results ever. We were all confident leaders, up to date in knowledge and worked well together. There was a collective sense of humour amongst us too. A difficult team to become a part of? Possibly, but we were all eager and looking forward to working with WH. We had never been a team that said that won’t work!

The questions I think might have helped WH understand more about the team and the individuals WH had inherited are:

1. Find out about the personal lives of the team – do they have children? Do they live nearby? What is their biggest achievement outside of education?

2. What are the current priorities for the school?

3. In the past five years, what areas has the school focused its energy on?

What was the impact of this focus? Why do you think it was successful or not successful?

4. What are your main areas of responsibility? What are your main priorities in the next year?

5. What is going well in your area? Why is it going well? Has this area always gone well? If not what did you do to improve it?

6. What are the issues you face in your role? What is the current reality of these issues & what is happening now? If these issues were solved what would be the outcome? How can we move one step closer to this outcome?

7. Does your job description accurately describe the role you perform? What is missing? What is additional?

8. What are your career aspirations? What have you done towards achieving these so far? How can I help you? Are there any roles you would like experience of?

9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the staff? What about the teams you lead and manage?

10. What about the Governing Body? What are the strengths and weaknesses here? What training have they received? How well do the GB and SLT work together?

11. What should I know about the pupils? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Are there any groups which have particular needs which should be addressed? Do you have any pupils or groups which are a serious cause for concern? Do we have any talented pupils that I should be aware of? What recent successes should I know about? What did the most recent student voice activity tell us? What do we plan to do with this information?

For example in our school, we had a very talented swimmer, gymnast, footballer and artist. The summer production of Bugsy Malone had been incredible.

12.  How are we developing leadership in our young people? What did the School Council change last year for the better? What are they currently working on?

13. How do we work with our partner schools and alternative providers? What should  I know about the local schools primary and secondary?

14. How do we work with the local community? What are the local community strengths and weaknesses?

15. How do we work with our Parent Body? What would they say the strengths and weaknesses of the school are?

15. Is there anything else you think I should know?

It is unlikely that you will get the same information from each member of the Leadership team. Some members may not have detailed information but their perception about an area is still important. It will help you as the new Head understand individuals and how they approach their role. Once you have met all the SLT individually you can start to make your own judgement about the working relationships of the whole team and the staff as a whole. You may also find the gaping hole which needs attention, or the issue which is driving everyone to distraction. Imagine a win win situation sorted in the first fortnight?

Once in post, please live up to the expectations of your team. Meet with each one individually at least once a fortnight. Never cancel at the last-minute (especially after asking them to prepare feedback on a variety of topics) unless there is an unimaginable emergency! Never leave your very busy SLT member waiting around outside your office because you have overrun for more than five minutes. They invariably could be doing something far more productive with this time which will directly enhance the work of the school. Yes you guessed it – WH did this all the time. I did not have a 1-1 line management meeting for 5 months once. Not because I avoided them, but because I invariably was cancelled by WH PA and not important enough to reschedule a meeting. Not a great confidence builder.

As a new Principal, I recommend the use of  DISC. This is a personality profile, which I will write about in another blog, but mention it to you as a useful tool to complete and then for  subsequent coaching the individual and team.

Have you any questions you would add or remove? I would be interested to know what you think.

Amanda Clegg has been a teacher for thirty years in secondary schools. She has held posts in senior leadership teams for the last fifteen years including that of Principal. Amanda is a Coach and works as an Educational Consultant and Science adviser.