The Professional Practices

Professional practices describe the skills, knowledge, habits and behaviours that characterise our school and support professional and personal growth. If these practices are to reflect the profoundly Christian nature of our mission, they must occur at the intersection of our intentions for and purposes of education at St Teilo’s. In other words, professional practices should improve excellence, increase equity and deepen faith whilst educating for wisdom, hope, community and dignity.

The practices help us to consider the characteristics we seek to develop in leaders, teams, teachers, support staff and pupils. They foster self-reflection, team analysis, improvement planning and performance management without being mechanistic, distracting or constraining. The Christian inspiration and educational underpinnings of the practices create the sort of team action that allows us to move forward together confidently in the same direction.

The Professional Practices: Leadership

In his book ‘Hit the Ground Kneeling’, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, suggests that leadership requires stillness and composure. Whether or not we think of ourselves as leaders, he says, time spent in reflective attentiveness, what the Church calls ‘contemplation’, makes for healthier more fruitful living (Cottrell, 2018). In a neo-Aristotelian sense, professions such as teaching may consider leadership practices to be deeply ethical, moral, and virtuous and particular to the specific needs of the school’s context (Gootenboer and Hardy, 2017). This notion speaks to the conception of practice as ‘praxis’ – practices that are oriented towards the good for not only the individual in question but society as a whole, and including the most marginalised (Kemmis et al., 2014; Gootenboer and Hardy, 2017).

Over recent years, the role of the school leader (at every level) has become increasingly important (Neeleman, 2018) and, in the context of the Welsh Government’s national mission (2017a), it is clear that educational leadership is an integral component, central to the promotion and realisation of educational change in Wales. In embodying our mission – in realising our ‘intentions’ and ‘purposes’ – the role of leadership is implicit in articulating those aims and aspirations in forms that can effectively inform and guide the practice of teaching (Elliott, 2015), simultaneously promoting the Welsh Government’s pedagogic vision and national ambition for educational reform.

A profound revolution is taking place in education and at the centre of this are the fundamental questions about the nature of learning, the role of the teacher and the organisation of the school and its leadership (West-Burnham, 2009). Indeed, nothing is more fundamental in a school than the quality of lessons being delivered in classroom (Coates, 2018). Hattie (2009) notably concluded that ‘what teachers do matters’ and, as teachers first and foremost, successful school leaders recognise that pedagogy is paramount; highly effective leadership will help pedagogy to grow. If our goal is to create lifelong learners - curious students in a global society - then we must be leaders who seek not to ‘fix’ students but to create opportunities for students to learn in the best possible environment (Stinson, 2017).

Building enthusiasm in all staff for the fascination with learning is a key leadership endeavour that seeks to encourage all to better themselves to the benefit of learners. Leaders of learning will continuously refine teaching and regularly consider a broad range of pedagogical approaches that focus on ‘the big picture’ from vision to provision to impact. Highly effective leadership of learning will employ a strategic vision for learning that inspires and enables the conditions for a learning organisation to develop in our school (OECD, 2018).

Making meaning is a uniquely human behaviour (Ashbee, 2020) - visual representations, abstract concepts, universal laws, metaphors, narratives and jokes are all things that we, and only we, do! As school leaders, we recognise our responsibility to teach others about meaning – about what it means to be human, no less! Leaders at St Teilo’s must cultivate a deep understanding in staff, children and young people to be fully the person God is calling them to be.

The sociological structures that allow us to make meaning to the extent and depth that we do are the subject disciplines: science, mathematics, literature, history, art and so on. It is critical to note (Hattie, 2009) that in deepening understanding in this way, we understand that surface knowledge is not necessarily ‘bad’ and that deep knowledge is not quintessentially ‘good’. The important thing is to have the right balance between surface and deep knowledge, revealing contextualised understanding that enables learners to see the world in a slightly different way, altering their behaviour or attitude accordingly (Ginnis, 2009). Leaders who promote deep understanding will advance learning by translating policy into practice and creating opportunities to initiate, drive and reflect upon authentic experiences. Deepening understanding will enable staff and learners to move from idea to idea without restriction, encouraging them to relate and elaborate on their learning, embedding, developing and extending the intentions and purposes of our mission.

It may be argued that systems can learn on a continuous basis (Fullan, 2008), indeed people learn new things all the time and their sense of meaning and their motivation are continually stimulated and deepened by effective leadership that embraces interdependence. Leaders who embrace interdependence will encourage collaboration and support teachers to discuss and explore their practice, delving deep enough to change previously held beliefs and refining and improving practice for the benefit of all learners (Thompson, Scott and Martin, 2017).

Ashbee (2020) argues that each subject discipline can be thought of as existing in a web of interconnected pieces. Being able to see these links allows careful sequencing of knowledge but also allows leaders to discern where additional knowledge may be added, helping to join sections of the web and make the meaning therein available to learners. For example, while the geographical proximity of the origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam may not be specified in a local curriculum agreement, effective leaders might add it since it helps join the web to explore similarities in the religions and their relationships with each other over time. Utilising cross-curricular themes, highly effective leaders at St Teilo’s will plan for practice that exploits complex learning, made explicit through reflection on learning and cross-curricular collaboration.

‘Growth mindset’ has become something of a buzzword in education circles of late, and rightly so. It is the opposite of the fixed view of intelligence - that some have it and others do not. The growth mindset focuses on practice and opportunity, suggesting that everyone can succeed given the right conditions (Dweck, 2006). Highly effective leadership at St Teilo’s reaffirms this sense of ‘can do’.

Scaling up change efforts relies on emphasising ‘professional capital’ (Fullan, 2016, p. 44) and a skilled leader will recognise, encourage and facilitate the ambition of colleagues. Leaders at St Teilo’s will be working with a diverse range of individuals and successfully supporting these varied groups will require a clear focus on the ambition for the whole school itself. Of course, it is important that colleagues’ work is enjoyable, fun and personally rewarding (Buck, 2016) but effective leadership will inspire strategic motivation that seeks to nurture the school intentions to improve excellence, increase equity and deepen faith.

For over 30 years, Mihaly Csikzenthmihaly has been the world’s leading expert in the field of optimal performance (Griffith and Burns, 2012) and his life’s work seeks to understand how famous writers, musicians, artists, engineers, academics and Nobel Prize winners attain their high levels of performance. Csikzenthmihaly surmises that different combinations of challenge and skill produce a variety or responses and help to achieve ‘a state of flow’. Effective leaders will exploit this pattern to drive improvements in their strategic planning. A comparison may be to consider the way computer games are designed to explicitly encourage progression. Game designers, Hattie (2012) argues, apply the Goldilocks principle of challenge - not too high and not too low - in order to drive improvement, engaging gamers in deliberate practice to achieve ‘the next level’. Such practice is achieved through the introduction of regular feedback, hints, clues and, at St Teilo’s, highly effective leaders will ensure that strategy and infrastructure at all levels are fit for a similar purpose; communicating challenge and support in line with the on-going strategic vision to improve excellence.

Highly effective leaders who drive improvement will promote a corporate responsibility that is highly sophisticated because a pride in being ‘on top of the job’ is fundamental to the culture of our profession and the future life chances of our young people. However, we are reminded that focused engagement is critical: someone might drive a car for ten years without necessarily becoming a better driver if that person hasn’t focused on improving and received meaningful feedback (Syed, 2010). Leadership at St Teilo’s plays a key role in supporting the growth of others, in seeking out, identifying and extending best practice, interrogating that practice and implementing approaches and techniques that will ensure sustained improvement for all. Leaders must ensure that colleagues feel confident they are receiving valuable guidance that supports their professional development potential, across and beyond the immediate school context. Good leaders will support the school’s ambition to become a systems leader in education and a force for good in the world.

Watson (2018) revealed that nations and societies become highly inefficient, unproductive and unhealthy when wealth distribution is extremely unequal. Systemic division has a detrimental impact not only on an individual’s educational chances but also on their overall quality of life, including life expectancy (Choudry, 2016). At St Teilo’s, leaders will recognise the worth in the knowledge, skills and experience we share with our students and colleagues and seek to nurture their agency and personal development. People are different and faced with such diversity one may easily feel overwhelmed (Ginnis, 2009). But leaders at St Teilo’s will always put the rights and needs of children and young people front and centre.

Ensuring that every learner benefits from an entitlement to the best possible experience of schooling speaks to our moral purpose and the overarching intention of the church’s work in education: ‘to do good’ (Lankshear, 2009). Highly effective leaders at St Teilo’s will exemplify a clear conviction and work to nurture and protect an education system that transcends the narrow ambitions of politicians, protecting a system that truly belongs to all, especially those without power, wealth and influence (Taylor, 2018). Our mission seeks to increase equity - to make education meaningful and relevant for all students and counter the de-humanising maxim that “one day, you’ll be good enough to really do it” but never today (Taylor, 2018).

‘Iechyd da i chwi yn awr, ac yn oes oesoedd’ – Good health to you now and forever. This phrase, stored on a golden disk launched into space by NASA, is now more than 13 billion miles from Earth and is intended as a combination of time capsule and interstellar message to any civilisation that recovers the craft that carries it! The Welsh language is one of the treasures of Wales; it is part of what defines us as people and as a nation (Welsh Government, 2017b). StatsWales’ most recent statistics show that as many as around 70% of secondary schools in Wales are English-medium which clearly highlights the key role of English-medium schools in maintaining and regenerating the Welsh language, culture, heritage and customs (Beard, 2020).

Sustained and highly effective leadership at St Teilo’s will seek out and capitalise on every opportunity to promote Welsh culture and extend the use of the Welsh language in formal and informal situations. Leaders will set an example to learners, colleagues and the community and demonstrate a positive commitment to, and enjoyment of, learning the Welsh language.

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Professor Rowan Williams writes that there is a mystical dimension to every human being we encounter (Williams, 2016). He argues that there exists within each person a dimension of their life that we shall never see, the dimension where they come forth from the purpose of God into the world with their unique set of capacities and possibilities (ibid.). Corinthians 12.12-26 reminds us that just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. At St Teilo’s leaders ensure that all members of the school community are valued and actively promote a corporate responsibility and collaboration that celebrates diversity within our school community and enables all members to flourish and thrive.

The diversity of the population in Wales has changed over time as people from different communities settle here, some losing their identities and becoming assimilated; others findings this more difficult for a variety of reasons (Choudry, 2016). Leaders at St Teilo’s will strive to be someone who, like a great artist or musician or poet, helps to reveal and celebrate in others that which may otherwise be overlooked: dimensions and depths within our community that remind us of the human dignity of each person and that all are worthy of extravagant and lasting commitment (Williams, 2016). Indeed, the Bible tells us that all men and women are made in the image of God, with equal value and dignity, and that in Jesus Christ the divisions that humans establish between peoples have been torn down. It is God who calls us to create a new humanity, in which people from every nation, tribe and tongue will live in unity (Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-16; Revelation 7:9).

It is reported that Einstein famously said that ‘not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted’. The dichotomy of debate that attempts to answer the question of ‘what should be measured?’ in education is extensive and, as we move towards a new curriculum for Wales, remains fundamental.

We have to do things differently if we want achievement to improve further (Ginnis, 2009). Hayes (2018) writes that negative impact arising from reactive or self-reinforcing sequences can be difficult to discern unless those leading change are able to step back and observe their own and other’s behaviour, identify critical junctures and explore alternative ways of acting. Reflective practice is a widely recognised and pivotal discipline in facilitating continuous learning (Ganly, 2018) and leaders at St Teilo’s will constantly seek refinement in their quest to deliver improved learning outcomes. Highly effective leaders endeavour to utilise increasingly sophisticated systems to monitor and evaluate effectiveness and areas of concern will be accurately identified, examined and diagnosed in an effective leader’s own practice and the practice of others.

Faced with adversity and challenge, leaders must make choices about how and when to respond (Burnes, 2017). If leaders at St Teilo’s are to help students connect with and understand the world around them (Pollack and Pollack, 2015; Gatley, 2020) they must strive to embed a compelling formula that supports teachers to develop their resilience and take perceived risks that lead to confident, rational changes in practice.

Such complexity requires intentional action that may be rationalised and explained in terms of the end goal towards which it aims (Martens and Roelofs, 2018). Working on the near side of such complexity means seeking silver bullets and being ‘techniquey’ - that is to say, seeking tools as solutions instead of getting at the underlying issues (Fullan, 2008). Effective leadership at St Teilo’s will be grounded in action because it is recognised that securing teachers’ active involvement is fundamentally important if one’s aim is to achieve deep and sustainable educational change (Pieters, Voogt, Roblin, 2019). Leaders must actively enable all staff to become the best they can be. Always, always, always make sure you find any opportunity to celebrate the success and progress of your team (Smith, 2012)!

The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh language myths and legends compiled from the early oral traditions of the 12th and 13th centuries, offers us the powerful and fitting metaphor for leadership: ‘A fo ben bid bont’ – One that would be a leader must be a bridge.

Power and influence has recently received greater attention within leadership studies for it is leaders who identify, design and align organisational cultures to promote coherence and a shared purpose (Schedlitzki and Edwards, 2018). School leaders are very good at making things happen (Buck, 2016) and highly effective leaders spend time and energy developing strategy and delivery through others. A Chinese proverb observes that when the greatest leaders have done their work, the people say ‘we did it ourselves’. Dylan Wiliam (2016) argues that the main job of school leaders is to improve the work performance of those whom they lead. Highly effective leaders in all contexts enable others to do their very best and to achieve their fullest potential so that the purpose of the organisation may be advanced (Cottrell, 2018). Connecting peers with purpose (Fullan, 2008) requires leaders to provide good direction whilst embedding strategies that foster continuous and purposeful peer interaction.

Research suggests that the vast majority of teachers could be as good as the very best if their leaders provide the right learning environment for those whom they lead - creating the right culture in which all teachers improve so that all students succeed is key (William, 2016). Sustained highly effective leadership at St Teilo’s actively promotes and facilitates purposeful and worthwhile collaboration and enables all staff to become the best they can be, recognising, supporting and realising growth in others.

Throughout the New Testament we find Jesus listening before he speaks. On the Emmaus Road on the first Easter day Jesus appeared to two of his disciples but they did not recognise him, so he says to them ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ (Luke 24.17). His attitude is one of open vulnerability; he allows the conversation to be led by their agenda. It is not that he doesn’t have anything to say; only that he knows that his words will lack clarity and precision if they don’t speak directly to the needs and questions of those with whom he seeks to engage. More than anything else, the wise leader - the leader who values the contributions of others and is prepared to let things happen at the right pace - is someone who dares to listen (Cottrell, 2018).

Listening leaders are perceptive and often utilise listening to gather data that helps them tune in to how people think and talk about the work of school improvement (Safir, 2017). However, Coates (2015) reminds us that enacting the ‘requests’ and ‘advice’ of students would result in a classroom diet comprising exclusively group work, videos and trips! It is the carefully framed question that yields the most useful insight when consulting students. Highly effective leaders at #TeamTeilo will establish an ethos that expects learners to offer their views and use this insight to inform all stages of learning, creating an effective and inclusive learning environment.


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