Three #DigiMeets & PedagooHampshire 2016-2017

#1 Developing and strengthening #Teams 2016

The political events over the last few weeks have certainly served to highlight the power of teams and leadership. There are many facets to leadership; but for me a key aspect is ‘developing & strengthening teams’.

In my professional role, I am part of several teams and I also lead a national team of SEND specialists. These specialists are located across the country, come from different backgrounds and offer an amazing range of skills and expertise. Collectively we deliver evidence-based online CPD across the globe. Our mission is simple: improving outcomes for learners through targeted workforce development.

So how do I manage my team?

1) Choose wisely – in building a team in the first place, I look for people who are not only different to me, but also better than me! I think about the collective dynamic.

2) Clarity – Different people means different perceptions. So, I believe strongly in open dialogue, modelling and harnessing a culture of support & challenge. Nurturing relationships is key.

3) Communication – I invest time in planning my communications and sending timely updates. I get lots of feedback from the regular top tip info-graphic I send out. My team, can also book regular one-to-one time with me and one of my key questions is “How can I support you?”

4) Listen – I am keen for my team to grow in all aspects of their lives. So I listen to what drives them or what they place a value on and make a point to home in on these during interactions. I actively seek out opportunities to support their growth.

5) Encouragement – there is such a joy in seeing someone develop.  I make time to express my gratitude for the work they do. Publicly and privately I honour them for the amazing people they are and not just what they do.

Part of my role also involves liaising with external partners for my team members. Each comes with a different set of expectations; which isn’t always easy.

So, what have I learnt this year:

  • Plan: Investing time in the strategic makes the operational a natural process – forward thinking based on reflective practice is priceless
  • Patience: Recognise some team members need reminders and repetition – knowing the difference between equity and equality
  • Praise: Value what each team member brings to the table – however big or small: it all counts, and diversity is our strength!
  • Performance: When we focus on supported quality input – the output takes care of itself

This year, I also launched the 1st National SENCO Masterclass. My dream is to develop the professional expertise and pathways for SENCOs beyond the National SENCO Award. This has been a different team building approach … but that’s a story for another day!

#2 The Challenging Nature of Leadership 2016

Leadership is not easy. It is not about personality traits but learned behaviours that develop overtime through the synergy of conceptual knowledge growth and experience. Authentic influence is acquired, not an automatic reaction.

In this blog, I seek to focus on 5 aspects around the nature of leadership; sharing some observations and hopefully providing ideas for further development. I do not think there is a single solution to any situation. Effective decision making is born out of open dialogue.

Top tips for success: Use every opportunity to articulate the connection of your vision to your values. Give voice to the direction of travel. Invest in supportive mentors, coaches and friends.

  • Identity

People often talk about leaders being role models. However, this behaviour is rooted in a core knowledge of knowing ‘who I am?’ This identity knowledge is the catalyst for defining beliefs, values and principles – thereby determining character.

Over the years, a number of eminent leaders (including Ralph Waldo Emerson & Stephen Covery) have quoted the following:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Thoughts speak from a place of who we believe we are.

Top tips for success: Sieve your thoughts, consider options & be open to new ideas.

  • Clarity

Leaders need to not only articulate where they (and others) are headed, but also define the direction and pace of travel. This is about more than communication. It embraces sustainability i.e. not losing track when distractions come along, but equally being flexible and open; responding to changing circumstances.


  • Challenge 4 Change

Ironically, I think this is the one most leaders find a challenge. They want change, but do not want to be challenged. In recent months, I have seen two common responses by school leaders to challenge. The first to take it personally and in doing so lose sight of the discussion. Fragile egos often get in the way of progress. The second is to respond with ‘I know’ – great way to stop conversations. Since more & more conversations take place on social media, we are in danger of becoming an industry that feeds on false empathy.

Top tips for success: Be open to challenge and if you need to challenge 4 change, avoid seeing it as a trade-off for being popular!

  • Enable

Leadership can be infectious and has the potential to ignite thousands of hearts and minds into leadership. Our big stories feed the wow factor but have a short shelf-life. Our best stories help others feel ‘I can too’.

Top tips for success: Invest in others – share you best stories!

  • Hope

It is too easy to criticize, much harder to be a leader of hope. Hope needs to be real and not just a there, there factor.

Top tip for success: Know what you are hopeful for and share it regularly.

Be the best of who you are, because your best is well designed and unique!

#3 Prepare for success: Leadership 2016/7

We all want success. But what does success mean? What does it look like? Do we embrace success when it arrives?

A man of faith has a dream one night. In it, the Lord appeared before him and said, “Whatever happens, I will be there for you, I will help you”. He awoke felling safe, secure and protected. A few weeks later, his town was hit by floods. The water was up to his knees. The rescue team knocked at this door. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. The water level now filled the first floor, a boat came by and offered him a ride to safety. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. Finally perched on the roof, a helicopter flies by and offers to rescue him. ‘No, no, no the Lord will save me!’ He declined their help. The man drowned. When he met his maker he asked why the Lord had not helped him. To which he received the reply, “Who do you think sent the rescue team, the boat and helicopter?”

Sometimes we are so caught up in striving for success, we don’t recognise it when it arrives. Other times, we have fixed views on what we think success ‘should’ look like, we miss out on what it ‘does’ look like. Each of us is unique.

My leadership pledge: to prepare for success; embrace it and enable others to the same!

Success involves change. If it didn’t we would be stagnant! There is a positive synergy between learning and change that accelerates success. Success breeds success. So in effect our journeys are from success to more success! That might be big leaps or small steps. It doesn’t matter. Without the journey, there is no destination. Without the destination, there is no journey. Where to start? Gratitude. Being grateful, I find, helps me to align my thinking. It stops me being distracted by the day-to-day mundane issues and focuses my attention on the bigger picture. So do we really prepare ourselves for success? Do we engender a culture (devoid of jealousy and comparison) to say it’s ok to be successful? Do we allow success to be part of our identity? Are we comfortable in celebrating the success of others? Do we choose a joy-filled lifestyle?

Since I was 14, I have been continually refining my dream on what I want the educational experience to be like for children and young people, in this country and around the world. It’s in my DNA. It takes collective effort and will plus a sustained commitment. Along the way, I’ve taken risks, I’ve made mistakes … and I’ve embraced opportunities when there was a knock at the door. The successes came in all shapes and sizes – they still do!

I wish everyone optimum success in the coming year in all areas (work, relationships, goals, dreams or just doing life).

Have the courage to answer the door and celebrate! 

PedagooHampshire 2016-17 (see photo above)

Simplify: 4Cs + 4Es

Reflections often (not always) include a rewind. So this my Rewind << of #pedagoohamphire16:

As a previous senior leader, I would habitually probe my staff after CPD on not just what they had learnt, but what that would change in the classroom/for pupils. Face-to-face and with established relationships, this was easy to do. So as @vivienne‍ led the final keynote, I was heartened to hear her remind us of the distinction between professional learning & professional development. In recent years, as I have delivered more CPD externally, I have asked attendees what they will do as a result of my input. Too often, the reply was a to-do list! That’s not change. In my field of SEND, I started to shift into strategic planning evaluations. Whilst this had stronger mileage than to-do lists, I still wasn’t hitting the right chord for professional development. Vivienne’s presentation was erudite and energising; hitting the right balance between challenge and support. We were asked initially, what in our thinking has changed?

Successful schools for me, have three core elements:

1) Practitioners have a model OF learning, which they use to identify and address barriers to learning

2) There is a shared language FOR learning, which serves to ignite meta-cognitive dialogues

3) There is an appreciation of the ‘joy of learning’ and the development of #JoyChampions (more on this at a later date)

Working in many schools, as I do, I see a variety of models of learning. A recent one, that caught my attention was: Collect (knowledge/info) – Connect (make links) and Create (apply what you have learnt to develop something new). The children in the school found this easy to grasp, discuss and deliver.

So, what shifted for me?

Rewind <<

The first keynote speaker Patrick @ottleyoconnor mentioned his recent participation in a conference in Vietnam. The focus of the conference was the three Es: energise, engage and empower. Awhile back, I developed the 4Es to support the SEND Reforms. This for me combined the learning and development, we would need to deliver the changes ahead. I still stand by these

What struck me about the Vietnam experience though, was how they mirrored the same conference theme for students and staff simultaneously. So in the same vein, surely the 4Cs above (revised model post #pedagooampshire16) could be used for staff and students. I have already drafted a staff template; which I will use at a CPD in October – watch this space for feedback. Any thoughts, in the meantime – much appreciated. This (as am I) is a work in progress!

Sandwiched between the two keynotes were a number of well-paced thought-provoking sessions and of course lunch! Grateful to all involved.

Rewind <<

That takes me to the start of the day and the night before, both marked by fun social interactions, generosity and encouraging banter.

And that’s where I think I will begin my Monday back at work … socially engaged with a new paradigm. What will I rewind on Friday?

SEND: It’s not about proof, but dialogue!

I’m not a reactive person, by nature.  I tend to ponder over what I hear/read and weigh it up before responding.  Over the years, I have (more times than I care to remember) been openly criticised for not joining in an emotional reaction to something that has happened in the world of SEND.

Our experience defines us!

So before proceeding with this blog, I felt it would be useful to highlight my background; which in turn reflects my perspective.  I do this not to boast, but in humility. I consider it a great privilege to work in education – it has been my dream since I was 14 years old.  At 16, I undertook my work experience placement in a special school.  Education & learning is in my DNA.  So for me, every opportunity is a gift, I value.

My professional & personal history will show that:

  • I have taught early years to postgrad in England and overseas; supporting a wide range of needs of children and making full use of my first degree in psychology
  • I have been a SENCO and senior leader in school with aspirations and qualification pathways to be a head
  • I have led support staff, trained them & trained others in maximizing the impact of teaching assistants
  • I have been an SEN Advisory Teacher; working with schools and individual children/families through the assessment process and annual reviews
  • I have sat on multi-disciplinary/multi-agency panels reviewing SEND assessments
  • For 10 years, I was an active member of nasen, supporting both local and national initiatives
  • In 2007, I was part of the advisory panel, assisting the The Audit Commission develop the AEN/SEN VfM Toolkit
  • As a member of a local authority school improvement teams, I have supported settings (mainstream including academies/federations, special schools and alternative provision), as well as been part of local authority inspection teams for settings in difficult circumstances
  • In a consultative role, I have worked with numerous local authorities (Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder) undertaking provision and finance audits and driving strategic change processes for greater efficiency
  • I have been external examiner, a lecturer and assessor on the National SENCo Award with a number of providers
  • I have led & delivered the MA in Inclusion for three years, taught trainee teachers about SEND and contributed to the development of an undergraduate degree in SEND (covering education, health and social care)
  • I have co-led with a head teacher national briefings on SEN finance and funding
  • For two years, I have been an Achievement for All Coach and Pupil Premium Reviewer focussing on 20% of our most vulnerable pupils
  • I have delivered parenting workshops and governor training on SEND
  • For nearly 10 years, I have been a SEND Online Facilitator/Tutor
  • I have completed my SEN Foundation Legal Training with IPSEA scoring an overall 85% and over 85% for the modules on Duties on LAs, schools & FE as well as Mediation and SEND. 100% on EHC Plans.
  • I have created and published several tools to support stakeholders embrace and implement the SEND Reforms
  • I have also co-written and independently written numerous articles, publications on SEND; some of which have been translated into 5 languages
  • I have led and sustained SENCo Networks in three local authorities and developed the first SENCo Masterclass
  • In the last 10 years, I have probably worked directly with over 350 schools/school leaders across the nation
  • I come from a family, where we have experienced fatality and developmental disability

My point is:  I approach SEND and the main issues that arise during a period of change from a well-rounded perspective.

To the matter at hand.

Recently there has been an unfortunate spate of inappropriate social media messages by a solicitor’s firm, that rightly so, has led to many parents questioning the intentionally of solicitors in the SEND system.  This is not the first time, a solicitor’s firm has posted inappropriate tweets and I have been arguing for a while now for greater regulation over the professional conduct of solicitors.  What makes this recent round of tweets intolerable is they appear to have been explicitly directed in a negative way to parents and families.  On previous occasions, solicitors have taken out-dated and inaccurate information and used it to incite parents against the system and local authorities.  Whether the negativity is directed towards local authorities or parents, I consider it unprofessional, lacking in sensitivity and integrity.

Special Needs Jungle (SNJ) has put forward a ‘Call to Action’ following the recent incident.   The spirit of the call is valid; however, I do wish to raise a number of points in response:

  1. Solicitors already have a Code of Conduct; which has clearly defined principles and outcomes. More information can be found about this at Therefore we need greater clarity on how this new proposed voluntary code will work in tandem with the SRA.
  2. The main thrust of SNJ’s motion is to:
  • Stop local authorities using tax payers’ money to buy in law firms to represent them against parents at the SEND Tribunal and;
  • To also ask why so many cases are ending up at Tribunal in the first place.

I agree, I have always advocated more efficient use of public funds ensuing provision is put in place for children, young people and those who need it.  I also appreciate most parents do not want to go to Tribunal and therefore the point 7 put forward by SNJ (What’s the thinking behind this?) is something I wholeheartedly support.  In areas, where active participation in mediation is undertaken by both parties with a view to finding a comprise, the outcomes have been amazing and the number of cases going to Tribunal has reduced.  In some areas, however, there is a tendency to opt for the tokenism certificate of mediation, without engaging in the process.  We will need to continue to watch the statistics on this; especially families who initially opt for a certificate, but then engage in mediation at a later date.

If Tribunal is sought, then local authorities have a responsibility to represent themselves in court and this costs money. So my question would be: if SNJ is advocating they do not use public funds for this – where would the funding for legal representation come from?  In Point 11, SNJ advocates paying fines and parental costs; again the question I pose – how would this be funded?  My understanding is that, parents and local authorities are able already to make application costs against either party, though the process could be made simpler/easier.

What is needed?

I have already stipulated my support for a greater emphasis on Dispute Resolution and Mediation.  Many of us nationally are already working on these discussions.

I think, though the biggest shift from an adversarial system is going to come through a change in culture. The Lamb Inquiry (2009) did highlight the lack of parental confidence in the system.  However, when parents received the provision they required, there was high parental satisfaction.  We need to distinguish parent confidence and parental satisfaction to measure true impact.  Similar comments of high parental satisfaction came through many of the Pathfinder Trials, when children, young people and their families were listened to.  The principles of the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice 2015 (p19) are pivotal and we do need to raise their profile more.

As an SEND Advisory Teacher, each case I was involved started with me accepting what was presented before me and adopting an investigative approach.  I never expected parents ‘to prove’ their child had SEND, but to share with me their reasoning and experience.  This for me, is the true spirit of implementing the SEND Reforms.  Assessment applications should not be about proving a need, but sharing and explaining a rationale.  Proof implies judgement and inevitably leads to a legalistic approach.  Investigation implies “We’re listening”.  In all my years of being involved in SEND, I have only come across one case of Munchausen by proxy; which did go to Tribunal.  So my underlying belief is if an assessment application is made; we need to investigate – not expect individuals to prove.  No one submits an application on a whim.  This shift in mind-set and approach opens up relational dialogue.  I have met many parents, who have come into the room (having surfed the web) and told me ‘My child has X’ (self-diagnosis). I have always made it a point to listen and understand why they thought that.  Further investigation follows, and in some cases their perspective has been accurate and in others my investigations has helped them to see it is not what they perceive, but something else.  SEND is complex. Either way, there has always been a sense of mutual respect and open listening.

I am aware, that whilst we are in process of change, an investigative approach that characterises the spirit of the SEND Reforms isn’t fully in place across the nation.  This is a work in progress and I genuinely understand the frustration parents have experienced/are experiencing. Change is complex.

So what I would like to advocate is:

  • A more investigative approach by all involved. Valuing and respecting children, young people and their families as stipulated by the principles in the SEND Code of Practice (p19).
  • A more authentic engagement in dispute resolution and mediation.
  • Greater use of the Local Offer/SENDirect to consider choice during the process – possibly through a split meeting model and time to reflect. Already in discussion with SENDirect & the NHS about this.

I would like to end with a phone message, a parent left for my line manager; when I was an SEND Advisory Teacher. This was in the era of SA, SA+ and Statements:

“I just wanted to say how much I appreciated Anita listening to my concerns and discussing a way forward in a positive, realistic and constructive way.  Anita observed and evaluated my son in a manner that my husband and I agreed with and felt was beneficial to him.  Prior to Anita’s involvement, most people had brushed my son’s problems under a carpet.

 The investigative approach works every time.  Let’s embrace it!

An open letter to those in education

Dear colleagues,

A new year and time to reflect on not just where we are headed, but also how. Towards the end of 2015, there were a number of public blogs and articles that served to highlight how many teachers and schools leaders were now leaving the profession due to increased admin, workload, stress pace of change etc. I emphasize with these challenges and wish each of them every success in the future.
However, in 2015 we also had quite lot of public chatter about the recruitment and retention problem we face and will increasingly face in education. Therein lies the first problem – mixed public messages from credible and esteemed individuals.
In my work, I travel a lot and last year I met on the train a woman (mid to late 30s). We started talking. From my reading material, she guessed I was a teacher and then began to tell me about her dream of training to be a teacher. I was so excited for her and encouraged her to explore different options as well as gave her a few tips, based on the what she shared with me. She said she would look into it. Her parting remark to me, “You are the first person to encourage me to be a teacher; everyone else just keeps telling not to bother – it’s too hard!” Of course it’s hard – we are tasked with learning from the past, to teach in the present in order to build a better future. Teaching is a privilege and every profession has its challenges!
There isn’t a day on Twitter, when there isn’t some sort of scheduled #chat around education or educational issues. Those involved in these dialogues (and I’ve been guilty of this too) believe that in the main they are talking to like-minded colleagues. They are, but in a public forum; where comments/opinions are open to all and recorded! In schools, teachers have professional dialogues within the confines of the staffroom or on a CPD session. They discuss, debate and openly challenge in order to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people. How many head teachers would issue an open invite to any parent or colleague from another school to join in a professional staff meeting discussion? I’m guessing, not many. So we need to re-think; what messages we are putting out there. I would say the same to colleagues at the DfE. The #AskNicky sessions do little to engender parental/community confidence and the reality is the dialogue is open to everyone, not just teachers and leaders. Those of us who enjoy interacting on social media need to be real; but transparency and being completely open are not the same thing.
NQTs use Twitter quite extensively to connect to more experienced teachers and leaders in order to learn as much as they can. Again, not a new concept – learning from those who have gone before. However, they also then get sucked in to other debates about change. Therein lies the second problem – implementing change. There is no doubt the pace of change in education since 2010 has been phenomenal. However, where I think our memories have lapsed is the thirteen years prior. When the Literacy Hour was introduced, I was teaching primary children at the time … those were the dark days! Observed in class on a nationally defined hourly clock! Ten minutes for spelling … move on ten minutes guided reading … move on. There wasn’t time or space for thinking conversations with the children, for pursuing different lines of inquiry, creativity etc. And we were ‘graded’ as ineffective professionals, if we didn’t keep to those nationally set times! It was during this period, that Ofsted changed radically to grading our lessons!
We now have greater autonomy in schools over curriculum, assessment, finance and strategy. Leaders, who separate the operational from the strategic are able to manage and direct change at a pace that is suitable to the local community. They use a robust theory of change to ground their vision and values; not just create ‘to-do’ priority lists that claim to be a school improvement plan. It is too easy to blame the government. The reality is the government simply creates generic frameworks (statutory and non-statutory) for us to professionally and pragmatically work within. They do not and cannot tell schools or school leaders what to do. Admittedly, the removal of the local authority personnel has resulted in local areas not guiding schools on what and how to implement change. Change, in itself is not the problem. As educators, we are in the business of life-long learning; which fundamentally is all about change and continual improvement. Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon of ‘education is not a business’, I would recommend you look up the definition of business.
One of the reasons, I think we in the profession struggle with change is because we assume it means ‘more of’. We are hoarders by nature and so when something new is introduced, we sometimes tend not to let go of the past – holding onto the past and the new simultaneously – added burden. Other times, we do not take time to reflect on what we are doing and how it can be ‘adapted’ (not necessarily changed) to meet the new. During the constraining era of The National Strategies, with my SLT, I developed a strategic management system; so every time a ‘new initiative’ was put on the table, we would evaluate it in terms of the vision, values and current provision. On numerous occasions, we were able to go back and say (with confidence and authority), we don’t need to do XYZ new initiative because this is what we are already doing, this is how and this is the impact it has had. Strategic management gave us the confidence as a team to say “thank you, but no thanks” as well as sometimes shape the policy delivery for others.
Before I end, I feel it necessary to explain why I am no longer in the classroom. I have a sense no doubt someone will come back and say “easy for you to say – you no longer teach!” The classroom has and will always be where my heart is. The truth is simple, as a Senior Leader I facilitated a TA redundancy situation in a community, where there were falling numbers on roll. It wasn’t easy. The year after we had to make a teacher redundant. I did the maths and in order to protect final salaries of my longer serving colleagues, I took voluntary redundancy with the expectation I would be deployed to another school in the area. The school was scheduled to close the following year. My background in special educational needs led to my deployment to a local authority post as a SEND specialist teacher (strategic and statutory casework); which in turn led to my current work. So yes, I may not be currently in a classroom; but across the country, I enable many (who are in the classroom in diverse settings) to fulfill their role effectively. This is supported by my background in finance and Prince2.
I do believe this is a great time to be in education and we have great opportunities ahead of us to improve the system. However, I would also share four reflective thoughts; especially for those in leadership:
1. If you are serious about addressing the problem of recruitment and retention, stop airing negative comments and moaning in the public. Let’s celebrate the positive aspects of the profession and encourage/support each other. Find a confidant to share your worries, issues etc. These need to be expressed, but we need to think about to who, when and how.
2. If you want to positively influence the next generation of teachers, think about open chats in social media – do they help or hinder? Do they foster deeper relationships of trust?
3. Discern the operational from the strategic and use your community’s mission to choose what/when/how to implement new/different ways of doing things. You know your community!
4. Finally, embrace change! Sure, there are always going to be challenges, but I would rather be a part of the solution, than the problem – how about you?

Be the change you want to see!

With every good wish,