Keeping one eye on the future, when dealing with the here and now

How the Barratt leadership model can help us deal with complexity

Co-Director, Big Education

Emerging from the crisis management of the initial weeks of closure and chaos, many teachers and leaders are wanting to begin to make sense of what has happened, and begin to reflect on their learning and experiences. 

Schools have become, more than ever, focused on the bare bones of survival, health, and nutrition for their pupils and staff teams, the most basic and essential human needs. This focus and need can be all-consuming, and it can be difficult to make space to reflect on, and learn from, what is happening.

Making time for reflection

The question for all of us is how we find some space to begin to reflect and make meaning from what is happening. In ‘normal’ times, the challenge of reflection is often more about having the courage to challenge the status quo – when we stop and deeply interrogate the way we are doing things, it forces us to consider change and disruption. Our current context gives us the entirely opposite challenge; everything is disrupted, so how do we pick our way through this mass of experiences as professionals? How can we begin to make sense of new ways of working to create a legacy of positive change, at classroom, school and system levels?

The discipline of self-reflection can be hard to achieve. I find a powerful way to engage in this process is using established models as a way in to taking stock of where I am at and what might be next.

Barratt Leadership Model

I am a big fan of a powerful leadership model, from the Barratt centre values model and think this can help us make sense of our experiences at this time.

I love this model as it shows how an organisation, and its leaders, need to operate across a wide range of levels. We have all, as a nation and profession, but plunged into focusing on level 1 – survival. Making sure families have food, that we have essential cleaning resources to avoid infection, that the most vulnerable are protected. 

But quickly teachers and leaders have seen that they needed to move to level 2, and seriously invest in, and reinvent, their approach to relationships. Needing to go beyond a simple measure of engagement, schools are finding ways to check in on, and see the faces of students and staff. 

Working at level 3, schools are rapidly creating new structures and processes to ‘make things work’ in new ways.

The more we can find time, to engage at level 4 and beyond, the more we will be able to make sense of what is going on. Quality reflection and time to make meaning is obviously critical for us as a profession, both to find the very best solutions for ‘now’; but also to capitalise on this extraordinary enforced period of experimentation to learn lessons for the future. 

The risk of not looking to the future

A huge risk is that we fail to optimise the opportunities that this moment presents us with. Established ways of doing things, build up over decades, have been halted. Received wisdoms about how things are done or should be done have vanished, and we are all suddenly on a level playing field in finding our way through this. The copying, planning and creating for this period are obviously vital – but so is eeking out some space in each week to deepen our understanding and consider the implications of what is happening for the longer term.

Will we ever go back to certain meetings or workshops being face to face for example? What insights into the positive power of aspects of online learning mean for how we organise learning? And how will our relationships with families change, having seen into their homes and lives (and they ours!) in unprecedented ways? This moment is unique in so many ways; the disruption has been done for us, and it is for us now to make sense and learn, to create genuine legacy for the system. 

Engaging and modelling these practices with our teams at this time is an important part of our leadership – and finding accessible and manageable ways in is critical. Here is an idea…

A practical start

As a profession, we have often felt we have been ‘done to’, and been constrained by a policy framework that we did not fully agree with. If we are to use this opportunity to play a more active role in shaping the purpose and practices of schooling, it is essential that we mobilise our professional capacity and insights.

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