On 11th June, a group of leading global educationalists met in central London, to explore how to create high performing cultures, capable of taking schools from good to great. The evening was hosted by LSC Education and the guest speaker was inspirational author and business culture expert, Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders.
LSC welcomed its guests, distinguished leaders from organisations and schools across the globe including Julie Robinson, General Secretary of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and Colin Bell, Chief Executive Officer of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS).
Jane Sparrow fuelled an evening of debate and reflection with her talk on the importance of building high performing cultures in schools as a key to success. Using colourful and memorable examples, drawn from her experience working with CEOs and leaders from organisations of all shapes and sizes, including many household names such as BBC Worldwide and Sony, she demonstrated the significance of leadership in creating sustainable and effective cultures. Leaders, she explained, need to nurture employees as ‘investors’ rather than ‘savers’, who understand and feel committed to the direction of the organisation. She spoke about the need for leaders to work proficiently across five roles to build and maintain cultures for performance, and she defined those roles as; The Prophet, Storyteller, Coach, Strategist and Pilot. Bringing all this together, she outlined the three pillars of culture. The first pillar is ‘what we believe’, understanding the ambition of the organisation, its purpose and where it is going. The second pillar looks at ‘how we behave’, and whether our behaviours are in alignment with the mission to enable it to become reality. The third pillar identifies ‘what we use’, the systems and processes to create the culture, such as rewards and recognition and the appraisal process. Sparrow explained that it is only when all three of these pillars are aligned, that we can be successful in creating and sustaining great cultures.
Edward Clark, LSC Director, facilitated further discussion around several areas connected to culture in schools. The group considered how long a new school leader should ideally be given to create a successful and sustainable culture where its people become investors, who want to contribute and embrace the responsibility of being part of the culture. Sparrow suggested that in her experience a minimum of three years is needed. Concerns were expressed by many about the issue that many schools face, particularly in the state and academies sectors where the average tenure for a Head has been far shorter than this. Dr Helen Wright, a highly experienced educator and school leader in the independent sector, commented that the nature of the Independent sector is to give leaders time to establish themselves and to address issues with the support of governors in a far more collaborative approach. Some felt that this was in stark contrast to the recent message from Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, that coasting schools would need intervention and that Heads would be axed. Sparrow cautioned about ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to culture building. She explained how it is easy to make ‘system changes’ that appears to tick the ‘change box’, but in reality schools need to invest time in getting to the heart of their culture, and to address what people believe and how they behave. She reminded the group of the importance of taking time to remember why we are there in schools, and to get back to core values.
Dr Glenn Hawkins, CEO of Astrum Education, which operates three London sixth-form colleges, spoke of his experience recruiting the type of leaders who could join their existing cultures, which already had a strong sense of team cohesion, and yet take on the challenge of driving substantial change. He strongly values the approach of involving stakeholders such as students, staff and parents in the recruitment process, not least to ensure that the new leader recognises the crucial importance of these stakeholders and their contribution to the success of the organisation.
Toby Mullins, Headmaster Elect of Reddam House Bearwood and previously an Executive Principal in the academies sector, Dr David James, Director of The Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College, and Janey McDowell, Head of Pre-Prep at Crosfields School talked about the enthusiasm and anticipation that comes with the introduction of a new leader to an organisation, but also about the challenges it presents to the community and the potential interruption to an existing culture. Several of the guests had experienced a change of leadership in unusual circumstances, such as a new leader being deemed an ‘outsider’ by the community, or having to overcome the hurdle of succeeding a high profile leader, leaving an impressive legacy.
The discussion turned to the difficulty of creating a sustainable culture in schools,particularly international ones, where staff bodies tend to be rather transient.How do we create investors when staff come and go so quickly? Diane Jacoutot, Managing Director of Edvectus, an international teacher recruitment agency, explored the challenges for some international schools in recruiting outstanding teachers. She gave a powerful analogy of successful schools as ‘beautiful people’, who find it easy to attract staff by virtue of their context, such as being in a sought-after location, having great facilities or being able to offer excellent salary packages. The challenge for the ‘less beautiful’ is attracting good teachers, which in turn is likely to make it harder to build a high performing culture. It was recognised that this issue is also a major one for schools in the UK and Diane encouraged leaders to identify their school’s unique qualities and to play to their strengths, rather than feeling unable to compete with the ‘beautiful’ ones.
Pam Mundy, Chief Academic Officer of Knightsbridge Schools International, along with Gillian Flaxman, Head of the British Council School, Madrid, and Stuart Leeming, Education Adviser to Qatar Foundation, shared their views on recruiting the right type of teachers, who are likely to become investors. It was felt that the focus must always be to place children at the heart of any recruitment decision. Identifying teachers who are genuinely dedicated to the children and are committed to teaching is key. Mundy cautioned against appointing those teachers moving overseas purely for the ‘travel experience’, as ‘teaching is teaching’ wherever you are in the world.
The group explored the concept of the five roles of the leader (The Prophet, Storyteller, Coach, Strategist, Pilot). Chris Preston, expert and co-founder of The Culture Builders, explained how some of the best leaders recognise that they only have the skills to perform some of these roles themselves and therefore surround themselves with others who can fulfil the missing elements. This quality of self-awareness was highlighted by Preston as always being evident in the best leaders. He spoke about the importance of balance within the roles, and how being too much of one and not enough of another can prove a major disadvantage, such as the danger of the leader who is all about rallying the team with speeches, but who fails to be the strategist, implementing the vision.
Colin Bell, CEO of COBIS, extended the discussion reminding the group of the importance of promoting British Education as an export. Bell said that British International Schools have a great opportunity to champion British culture and values and that as leaders in education we have a responsibility to be engaged and ‘invested’ in British Education at home and abroad.
LSC Education is deeply committed to developing excellence in school leadership and hosts a series of annual dinners for education leaders with exceptional guest speakers. To express interest in attending a future event visit our website www.lsceducation.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. LSC Education is dedicated to supporting schools and education organisations globally, to recruit outstanding leaders.
Jane Sparrow is an author and expert in organisational culture– www.theculturebuilders.com