SLEs – The Footsoldiers of System Leadership

Posted on October 8, 2014

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This month the Canons Park Teaching School Alliance will be looking to appoint its first cohort of SLEs (Specialist Leaders of Education). The details of how to apply and what we are looking for are available on our school website via this link.

The alliance is led by two schools, Canons High (of which I am the Headteacher) and our nearest and dearest neighbour, Park High. Both are based in Harrow near Edgware and Stanmore. BUT DON’T STOP READING IF YOU LIVE AWAY FROM NORTH WEST LONDON AND WANT TO BE AN SLE WITH OUR ALLIANCE, BECAUSE WE ARE LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF WHERE THEY COME FROM AND WHERE THEY TEACH.

You see, our alliance is looking to work in very different ways to many others that are out there. Rooted in a philosophy that we summarise as ‘Doing things well. Doing things right.’ our alliance seeks to work with schools and school leaders (both from the teaching and support staff domains) that are prepared to commit to working well in the right ways. Where these schools and school leaders are in the country matters less to us than it does to many other alliances. To this end, we already have three national strategic partners in the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), the SSAT and the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE) and we will be endeavouring to align our work with their national networks for mutual benefit.

So where do SLEs fit into all of this?

The first thing to say is that the commitment to doing it well and doing it right is embedded in our approach to working with SLEs. Unlike the model deployed in many Teaching School Alliances (TSAs), we do not intend to ‘recruit and hope’: that is, we don’t want to recruit SLEs and then advertise them on a website in the hope that someone sees it and books them to work in their schools.

Instead we have decided that we will recruit our SLEs and deploy them within and across the alliance to work on specific projects with specific time demands and specific intended outcomes. For example, we wish to use some SLEs as mentors for our School Direct Trainees, going into their schools on a half termly basis and keeping in touch with them in between visits. We are also looking for SLEs to design and deliver alliance wide courses. Working with our national partners we may even use some SLEs to deliver training and programmes that they run. Once appointed, and once our plans begin being put into action, we will deploy SLEs in areas they see as strengths or in areas in which they wish to professionally develop.

Another way in which we wish our alliance to work with SLEs that is different to many other (but obviously not all) TSAs is that we are not looking to sell their services as quasi-consultants. Instead we will be looking for schools that wish to sign up to a low cost, high engagement ‘partnership package’, which has commitment to SLE deployment and usage it its heart. In brief, every partner school (and we will be looking to hook up with these early in the new year) will know that they need to give and take in equal measure, contributing to the alliance relative to their strengths and utilising support from the alliance relative to their self-identified areas for development. For our SLEs this will mean that their Heads need to be as prepared to release them as partner schools will be prepared to utilise them.

Finally, a word about the title of this post. The Canons Park TSA was designated as an alliance based upon an application to turn The Big 6 upside down. That is to say, we understand the importance of what are often seen as the Big 3 by other alliances (ITT, CPD and Leadership Development), but we have chosen to focus more upon the traditionally Little 3 (Research and Development, SLEs and School-to-School Support). Our belief is that the work of the alliance needs to be filtered through the lens of R&D if it is to truly be seen as doing it right, and the work of our alliance needs to be committed to the genuine improvement of partner schools of it is to truly be seen as doing it well. (And by school improvement, we don’t mean crowbarring our own ways of doing things onto unwilling partners, or behaving like some beacon school that thinks everything it does is perfect and that others should imitate it.)

If we are to use research to do things right and S2SS to do things well, we will need a committed group of individuals who are genuinely enthused about the concept of being part of an alliance forging a distinctive identity and pathway in an already crowded system improvement ‘market’ (in essence, an alliance that does not want to be part of that ‘market’ at all).

SLEs, within our schools and locality but also beyond our schools and locality, will be the footsoldiers of our approach to system leadership. You will be utilised. You will be free for all partners. You will be integral to the success of the alliance. You won’t be wearing a meaningless badge. You won’t be left with an empty-promise CV filler. You won’t be disappointed.

If you are interested in finding out more about the role, the kinds of SLEs we are looking for and the application process, go to the link to Canons High School website near the start of this post. The contact details for the school are also there. You can also DM me at @kevbartle.

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