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More than just an education

Being a great school requires more than just providing the best possible education; it requires a different view of what education is

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | July 23, 2016 | People

By Andy Howard, Headmaster at Myddelton College 

One of the best things about being part of a global community is the opportunity to see and hear things from other places. Recently I was sent a link to this great clip of Anthony Salcito talking about lessons he's learnt over time visiting schools that are transforming education.

At Myddelton College, we are building a brand new approach to education, under the motto of "more than just an Education" and with the strapline of:

"Being a great school requires more than just providing the best possible education; it requires a different view of what education is."

And so we are transforming what we believe education is about, from the ground up. Working within amazing buildings, built 150 years ago to provide education, re-fitting the very heart of the school so it is providing an education fit for the 21st Century.

Anthony goes through 10 lessons learnt by educators around the world & each and every one of them is a gem in it's own right and each one will be an article in it's own right! 

1.     It starts with leaders
2.     Leverage process
3.     Build from the inside out
4.     Be clear on expectations
5.     Innovate rather than automate
6.     Use devices thoughtfully
7.     Move the whole school, not the classroom
8.     Parents play a key role
9.     Use data to drive decisions (rather than to justify changes)
10.   Celebrate teachers

It starts with Leaders

This is a topic I tend to struggle with, but as Anthony put it first, I will go for it. I personally believe that any organisation absolutely requires a strong, focussed leader to ensure the organisation is working together to achieve a common aim.

In the UK, particularly, there is currently a vilified figure; the 'Hero Head'. This mythical figure is an egotistical person, who brooks no dissent, is followed by his/her staff and ruled with an iron rod. The hero head has to do it all, and doesn't promote growth or innovation, unless it comes from them. The problem is, this has become a stick to beat any leader who has strong views and opinions about the direction a school should go in. Couple this with the very British aversion and distrust of anyone who dares to challenge the status quo and you have a dangerous mix. I have had experience of governors who react violently against strong leadership and I have said before that in Britain particularly, head teachers have about as much job security as premier league football managers. All of this conspires to push heads more towards maintaining the current pedagogy, maintaining the hegemony. 

Having strong views on education, believing with passion that there is a particular direction the school needs to go in, should not be a crime and heads should be free to lead

But this is so wrong. Head teachers are, as Anthony states, the professionals who are supposed to challenge things when they are not serving the best interests of the young people in their institutions. Governors need to realise that they are not the experts & allow the head they appointed to do the job.

Having strong views on education, believing with passion that there is a particular direction the school needs to go in, should not be a crime and heads should be free to lead. This is particularly true when it comes to innovation;  the rest of the organisation should be getting on with the business of supporting and encouraging young people, so won't have the time or effort to ensure innovation is right. There are so many fads and trendy initiatives in education (& again, from a UK perspective, with governmental influence as strong as it is, political winds also come in to play here) - it needs a strong leader, with expertise, skills and knowledge to separate out the chaff, ensuring the organisation is innovating with purpose.

This does not require the head to be a vilified figurehead, however. The best leaders bring out the very best from their staff. I have always said that my role, as a head, is to provide the very best environment possible that enables the rest of the school to get all students achieving, if not exceeding, their aspirations. Or as I've said before, to "sing their own song". 

The best heads encourage, support and enable their staff. That is the very essence of leadership. If this is in place, then the organisation can only thrive, develop and innovate. They really should be celebrated and encouraged.

About the author

Andrew Howard. B.Sc.(Hons), PGCE, M.A., NPQH
Andy Howard is currently CEO & Executive Headmaster of Myddelton College, in Denbigh, North Wales. With over 26 years’ experience in education, working in all types of school around the country, Andy is now opening a brand new Co-educational Independent Boarding School, based on a completely re-written pedagogical framework, putting technology and 21st century ‘soft’ skills at the heart of the school. Andy is also a member of the Microsoft Education Advisory Board, providing advice to Microsoft on the development of their products for the educational market.  

Read another blog from from Andy, here: Developing a new pedagogy fit for the 21st century

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