BElonging – our second all staff development day


Big Education

It was an enormous pleasure to have our whole Big Education team together last Friday. This was our ‘second draft’, having had our first go the year before. Modelling that we are always learning and improving, we had listened hard to all the feedback and ideas and built that in.

There were two themes – BElonging and BE green. (For those of you unfamiliar with our Big Education tropes – BE = Big Education!). In the midst of so many other challenges in the system and a never ending list of priorities, it is easy for these to become peripheral or ‘just another thing on the list’. For us, a sense of belonging and the psychological safety which that engenders, is really at the heart of what we believe matters. So to work on this together as a whole trust was a really special moment.

We also took a moment of silence together to send our positive thoughts, love and intentions out into the world at this time of such terrible suffering, violence and hatred. We were inspired by this wonderful image created by Charlie Mackesy and invite you to do the same as you read this.

As an organisation, we are trying to do some really hard things. We are working to enact our more expansive view of what school can be, whilst working within a set of frameworks and contexts which are materially challenging (financial, social, economic) as well as educationally challenging (e.g. emphasis of Ofsted is different to our agenda). We are also playing a role in changing the system within which we work, whilst also being in that system.

Working IN whilst working ON the system is a lot! We reflected on what this means for us to be able to ‘do hard things’ and the importance of a coherence to our team, alongside the space for difference, creativity and divergent thinking. We know that the answers will not be found by us adopting one rigid approach – but equally know there needs to be clear values and vision which give coherence and ensure quality.

We used the Matthew Syed book ‘Rebel ideas’ as a framework for this. In this diagram, Syed explores how the rectangle represents the organisation – and is created by the values, vision, norms etc. Within that structure, difference can then be celebrated and worked with, allowing for the best possible decisions to be made, drawing on those different perspectives. We reflected on all the work we have done in the past year as an organisation to strengthen our ‘rectangle’ – including working on our values, clarifying our theory of change, improving the professional development offer and improving lots of our operational and technical infrastructure.

It was a joy to welcome friend and colleague Adrian McLean as our keynote and workshop leader. Adrian was a previous participant on our Big Leadership Adventure programme – just the kind of change-maker leader in the sector we want to support. Adrian had the room in the palm of his hand as he took us through a challenging and reflective morning – getting comfortable in the uncomfortable, and inviting us to reflect on our language and assumptions (what is seen and what is invisible). He also modelled that we are all (himself included) learning, and that our choice of words and phrases is something around which we must all commit to being informed, sensitive and compassionate.

Adrian opened up a rich discussion amongst colleagues and supported us in our journey to ensure that everyone within our organisation feels a strong sense of BElonging.

Max Girardaeu from The Visionaries worked with the operations, administrative and facilities teams to focus on our response to the climate emergency agenda. This insightful interactive session was the start of introducing this subject to this audience to drive ideas and let staff connect to the long term climate and sustainability strategy for the trust and commit to some meaningful pledges.

The teaching and learning staff worked in their school groupings on specific agendas – it was wonderful to see the School 21 team in their iconic ‘circles’ using the harkness oracy technique to work through some key issues. A wonderful example of Big Education in action!

With my enormous thanks to the organising team, led by the awesome Nic Noble and Sarah Franklin, it is a moment to acknowledge and celebrate where we are at as an organisation and the immutable knowing that the right people, united by a clarity of mission, are unstoppable. We began the day with one of my deeply held beliefs, expressed so perfectly by Margaret Mead;

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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