by Howard Bousfield, Head teacher at Norris Bank school, Stockport
Every child in our school now has a one-page profile and we’ve moved on to the staff. It is early days and a few are really understanding the process and altering their behaviour and how they support others around them.
Rather than pushing the teachers, my deputy head, Tabitha, and I decided to lead by example. We each wrote our one-page profiles and stuck them up on the staff room wall. To be honest it took guts to do this – our profiles are very honest and open – and I had no idea I’d be so staggered at the outcome.
Before I tell the story, you need to know about the sort of leader that I am. I’ve been head teacher at Norris Bank primary for eight years and before that was deputy head at another Stockport school. I believe in a culture where we appreciate the talents and skills of others before we criticise them and I welcome feedback and support from teaching staff that are perceived to be beneath me.
My one- page profile and Tabitha’s were on the wall for about three months and became part of the scenery. On mine, under the section about things that were important to me, I had said that I enjoy having an energised team around me, I want to feel proud of the school and I want to feel calm and in control in challenging situations. On the section about how to support me, I was very specific. I said that when I am nervous, I sometimes struggle to recall my words. I said, please be patient with me, I’ll eventually recall what I want to say and then I’ll carry on talking. I also asked that staff give me feedback on how I deal with challenging situations. I may feel wobbly afterwards and feedback will give me reassurance.
Then, sure enough, a challenging situation arrived. We had an SEN child in school with autism. It fell to me to explain to the parents and all the agencies involved that soon the school may not be able to provide the education the child needed. A teaching colleague and I led the meeting. She ran it in the form of a person-centred review of the child and although the approach was very good, I felt the tension and anxiety in the room. When it came to delivering the bad news, I tried to be sympathetic. I had thought through how to approach this very carefully as I recognised it would be a blow to the parents.
A day or so later I got an email from the teacher. It was a round-up of work we are doing together. At the end she’d say, “By the way, I noticed that you said on your one-page profile that you struggle with confrontational situations. I thought I’d give you some feedback. You did really well in that difficult meeting – well done!”
This was a magical moment for me as a leader. I was blown away by her courage and by the whole one-page profile process. It had given me the opportunity to understand and express who I am and my colleague the chance to feel closer to me and build a trusting relationship with me. Getting this positive feedback was a confidence booster for me, too. I’ve noticed that I’m having better conversations since this happened. I’m not panicking when things get tough – I’m understanding who I am. I really feel that I am changing as a person and as a leader.
Our next work at Norris Bank is to look at sharing all our staff profiles. There’s no point in everyone doing them unless they are shared. To my mind, if just one staff member gets one positive result from this process a year, then it will have been a worthwhile exercise.