Leadership: Put away the ego if you want every child to thrive

The following essay, by Rob Ford, was commissioned by the TES and appeared in their February 22nd 2019 edition.  It can be viewed online via the following link: https://www.tes.com/magazine/article/get-over-your-ego-if-you-want-all-pupils-thrive

I was in demand. My headteacher had asked me to lead on the development of the IB Diploma at our forward-thinking state school, one of the few schools adopting the Diploma in the South West.  Very soon, other schools became very interested in the IB and so very interested in the work I had been doing: invites piled up to speak at schools and conferences extolling why we were developing the IB in my school, and more importantly, how we were doing it.

My reaction was not an embrace of this new found fame, but a deep suspicion of it. I wanted to preserve the IB at my then school as something unique and different and definitely not something to share with state or independent schools. I wanted it to remain special. My ego had got in the way.

Thankfully, I have since come to my senses and have spent my subsequent career eulogising the virtues and benefits of educational collaborations, partnerships and networks in the UK and around the world. But I see it still see the same barrier of a school leader’s ego getting in the way of collaboration. It may even be worse, due to schools being more competitive and fearful thanks to league tables: sharing what we could all benefit from to raise standards and improve education may – they fear – see a drop in those tables.

I understand that. But by getting over my own reluctance, I ended up leading on a unique dynamic team network of state, independent and FE education organisations and individuals that developed the IB Diploma successfully as a community of schools. The collaboration was extraordinarily productive to enable us collectively to achieve what we did with little guidance other than our own resources and leadership. And because we had each other and had proved it could work and we had nothing to fear, we grew from this collaboration model.

I now realise that the stark alternative of isolation, introspection and an inward looking school unable to find answers or solutions is something only the most ego driven school leader would contemplate. This is especially true at a time when communication technology makes working together as educators and school leaders as easy as working with a school in Moldova or Indonesia as partnering with a school down the road in the Forest of Dean.

Ego-free leadership is not easy. But if we want our schools to thrive, it is essential.

My current school, Wyedean, could not exist in an introverted isolation at the southern end of the Forest of Dean. The game-changer for us was to engage with networks, partnerships and anyone who could offer an external perspective and challenge. I did not think we were doing it best, I did not think we were fine on our own, I did not assume no-one out there could tell me anything new. I did not fall victim to my ego, this time.

One school and one school leader does not have all the answers, especially in the very complex educational picture we inhabit in 2018. Through collaboration we can be challenged in our approaches and thinking in a way that pulls down the walls of our often self-constructed echo chambers of our individual school cultures.

We can do this formally and informally. Partnerships like the Challenge Partners network, British Council networks and the IB global family of schools are examples of collaboration networks we belong to that align with our school improvement and ethos of global learning. Informally, just having a network as a headteacher of other leaders can be invaluable – across phase and sector is best.

And it is useful to build this collaboration into the school vision: a key part of our school ethos is our commitment to work with any school and to collaborate to develop education and ideas that continues to enhance the education at Wyedean and, reciprocally, those we have the privilege to work with.

If you feel ego creeping in, it will not work. You have to know and believe that you do not have all the answers,m that you often do not even know the questions. Put your ego aside and you can ensure every child gets the education they deserve.

Rob Ford is Principal of Wyedean School


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