The report is based on the evaluation of the Gwbert programme between the 20 th and 23 rd of September, the evaluation of the period spent at the Welsh schools between 23 rd and 27 th of September and a surmise of the learning logs and information made available between the first cycle and the preparations for the second cycle i.e. between September 2002 and the middle of February 2003.
The Gwbert programme comprised three days exploring leadership styles, school climate, the Herrmann profiles, intelligent school model etc and through dialogue and coaching opportunities attempting to arrive at a leadership question to be pursued further at the school.
There were fairly uniform expectations of the programme – some heads saw it as a means of learning about other school systems and leadership styles, others saw it as a means of acquiring tools to improve their leadership and management competencies. One head saw it as a forum to make a “tangible difference to my school”. This suggests that most of the participating heads had been briefed as to the content of the programme and the intended outcomes. However, at least two heads mentioned that having reading material, particularly with regard to the leadership models would have been useful prior to the Conference.
The heads were introduced to their partners on the Friday evening prior to the Official dinner. The evidence suggests that all nine trios succeeded in establishing a certain rapport with each other leading to a sound working relationship. The heads were matched where possible according to school size and background, mixed sex and opposite “Herrmann” profiles.
Many commented on the value of the “Herrmann” profiles as a tool to explore individuals’ motives. Much discussion emanated from analysing the profiles, not least from considering the group profiles of the heads from the three countries. The application of the “intelligent school model” to their various circumstances gave the Heads a different window through which to view their individual schools and this was also considered particularly useful.
The interaction and dialogue between the trios was valued and commented upon by quite a few heads. However it was felt that generally the trios needed more time to explore the individual models and to reflect on how the models applied to their own circumstances. The role of the facilitators in raising issues and exploring options and links greatly assisted the dialogue allowing the heads to have:
“More than one way of exploring solutions to problems and issues”
Marrying each model into a coherent picture and attempting to forge links was viewed as a very useful aspect by one participant.
One trio described the way the application of the models assisted them in getting “under the water” and in beginning to adopt a “rational” approach to “emotional” issues. They observed that a dysfunctional organisation is one that has poor interaction, which was a theme that came to the fore with several trios. One head describes his perception that an intelligent school will attain creativity through meta-cognitive dialogue which he described as being the:
“Management of paradoxical processes in a spirit of enlightened discourse .”
Quite a few participants felt that some sessions could have been condensed and it was felt that generally not enough time was allocated for discussions in the trios. One head reiterated this by stating that more “patience and time was needed for the trios to integrate.” Moreover it was thought that the conflict of getting to grips with a model in a short period of time and then coming to an agreed definition of the meanings in the trio groups could have been better spent applying the models as they were to the individual schools. Too much time was spent on defining the meaning instead of applying the meanings. Having briefings and reading material before the Conference would have helped and would have avoided this problem. Also some of the presentations were “too detailed” and over complicated in some instances and illustrating some of the concepts with concrete examples would have aided clarity.
One head commented that the “pace of the presentations were too slow” and “too solemn” on occasions.
The difficulty of working in a second language presented an additional challenge for some of the trios and this was mentioned in several of the evaluation reports. One head stated that it was:
“Hard work learning complicated things in a foreign language”.
Generally there was universal approval and appreciation for the accommodation, the food and the general arrangements. The selection of the models was a strength according to one head as was:
“The highly professional approaches of the facilitators during the whole seminar”.
The participants valued the “social talk in the bar in the evening” and it was also mentioned that the lunch breaks could have been slightly longer and the coffee breaks shorter.
One head commented that some issues and questions put forward in the whole group sessions were not always addressed – there was a tendency to throw questions back instead of considering possible answers.
One head commented that he felt a sense of “anticipation and excitement” that the programme could have a real impact on his school and on his pupils’ learning. Also it would “force” him to face certain weaknesses he is already aware of and learn about others he has yet to discover!
The periods spent at the Welsh schools were utilised primarily with packing in as many experiences of school life as possible. The activities included spending time in feeder schools, sitting in on management meetings, meeting governors, interviewing pupils, shadowing deputies, attending assemblies, observing lessons, attending parents meetings etc. Most of these activities were planned and timetabled prior to the start of first cycle, although some heads allowed for a certain degree of flexibility and choice as regards to what the partner heads wished to see. It has been noted by many trio groups that there was a conflict between packing in as much as possible to the programme and allowing for time to discuss and reflect on what had been observed.
However all valued the input of their colleagues and having fresh pairs of eyes looking and seeing their school thus offering new perspectives on their individual circumstances.
Some common themes emerged and these included time management, delegation, and ownership of the whole school vision, developing team management, staff/pupil relationships and how leadership style and motivational preferences affect these issues.
These themes emerged as a result of the Welsh heads’ perception of what the school’s priorities were at that moment in time as well as by the observations of the partner heads – often within the context of the models and exercises in the programme materials. It was noted by one trio that the theoretical basis of the enq uiry succeeded in its practical application at the school and tended to confirm the observations made and alluded to at the Cliff Hotel .
It was noted that the “sharing meaning” exercise was illuminating – enabling the participants to look at their situation through new perspectives – also posing questions as to how others interpret the school.
A better understanding and awareness of leadership style enabled the heads to gain greater “freedom and flexibility” – although applying this knowledge is harder to achieve – being described by one head as being somewhat “Delphic”.
One head commented that the deeper analysis of his own leadership style and motivation assisted him in gaining greater relevance in formulating the strategic direction of the school especially in relation to Performance Management , which is a nationally imposed system of individual reviews with emphasis on accountability.
The application of each model in the school context is well exemplified by one trio who analysed the head’s leadership style, his motivational preference, and his interpretation of the school in the context of the intelligent school model and by his consideration of the school climate. A focus emerged looking at the staff/pupil relationships within the school and in analysing the merit/de-merit system introduced at the school.
From this analysis, a dialogue developed which considered blind spots and possible alternative ways of acting. This was then referenced back to the models – questions such as “What would I usually do? What might I do differently? What am I going to do and why? What parts of the models have I used?” formed the framework for the analysis.
The trio committed themselves to completing assignments in the “Learning File” with each of the trio in turn leading the exercises by posting questions and raising issues one week prior to the completion of the tasks. The tasks then resulted in proposals for actions being taken at the Welsh school – these were then analysed by the trio and questions were posed and issues considered. The level of interaction and the “coaching” by other members of the trio group contributed to a better understanding of the Welsh head’s way of operating and how his governing values impacted on his favoured modes of operating. The strength of having heads with contrasting motivational preferences in the same trio group also resulted in dialogue regarding blind spots and a culture of “do differently”. Alternative avenues of action were suggested and the Welsh head in particular seems to have gained appreciably from a better understanding of his motivational preferences and how these impact on his leadership style and ways of working. In this case the contribution of the trios working together, challenging each other, highlighting alternative ways of doing things has worked well.
One Head commented that his school was going through a period of uncertainty, with many changes and issues and initiatives resulting in added pressures on staff. In this context the emotional health of the staff was a priority which could be improved by an emphasis on improving dialogue and interaction thereby recognising the very human and humane nature of a school as an organisation. Although the head in question was aware of the necessity to look at staff interaction and communication, this was brought into sharper focus by the contributions of the partner heads.
One trio set out a clear working programme with scheduled contact periods. This appeared to work well and may be a pattern that other trios may wish to emulate. Certainly technical problems did inhibit the frequency and levels of interaction within the trios and thereby limiting any contribution by the coaches to the advancement of, and deepening of understanding. In many cases Heads reverted to contact via e-mailing and via the telephone.
Although this has contributed to a loss of momentum in many of the trios, the sense of anticipation and an eagerness to re-engage and to learn from the partner heads through interaction and dialogue is still very prevalent.
One head commented that he was:
“Looking forward to continuing the professional dialogue and advancing the synergy of the analytical models”
Conclusions/lessons from Cycle 1
The main lessons and issues from the actual process are surmised below.
It is fair to say that the first cycle was a great success in many respects, especially the actual conference and period spent at the Welsh school. There was appreciation of the main aims of the programme and the professionalism of the actual delivery.
The intensity of the conference as well as the programme arranged in the Welsh schools and the amount of ideas and concepts the heads had to grasp in a short period of time was very challenging and this was commented upon by several of the participants.
Technical problems did hamper communication and negated in many respects the role of the coaches. Many heads spoke of their frustrations at not being able to easily access the “Roots and Wings leadership web site”. Most of the Trios reverted to using e-mail and phone calls – the Leadership web site being under utilised as a forum for exchanging thoughts and considering progress. The frequency and level of the interaction is an issue which will need to be looked at carefully during the second cycle.
The development activities at the Cliff Hotel offered the participants tools and a theoretical basis to look at their individual situations. Many heads commented that they needed time to absorb and to develop their understanding of the models and to consider the relevance of the tools to their own situations.
The language issue has been an additional challenge for some of the Trios.
The second cycle has been designed taking into account the views and opinions made available by the participants. However a full picture of opinions and views has not been forthcoming and therefore the second cycle will not always accurately reflect the wishes of all the heads.
Clive Phillips March 2003