Flourishing leaders key to flourishing children

Innovation and evaluation drives Foundation forward

10th September 2019

As the Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, Nigel Genders is passionate about equipping educational leaders with the knowledge and skills, but also the supportive networks, that they need to thrive; nurturing themselves and the schools they work within. In this blog, he shares how the Foundation for Educational Leadership, which is funded by Allchurches Trust, is growing and continuing to embrace diversity and change.

“I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

That’s the oft quoted saying of the late Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, and now the tech giant is working in partnership with the Church of England as we develop a network of educational leaders who are called, connected and committed.

The support and partnership we have enjoyed with Allchurches Trust has helped us to define our focus in developing the Foundation for Educational Leadership, and now we’re working in partnership with Apple, who are helping us to think about the best way to deliver our peer support leadership networks in rural communities. It’s yet another exciting development for a programme that continues to innovate.

Our vision speaks of ‘Life in all its fullness’ and leads us towards a notion of ‘flourishing’, which is a helpfully inclusive concept for a deeper view of what education is all about.

The metaphor of trees planted by living waters, and the bearing of fruit, extends right back into the Old Testament prophets (Jeremiah 17) and the Psalms (Psalm 1 + others). While our goal may well be flourishing children, for this to be achieved, we must also focus on flourishing adults.

Here are four strands which Andy Wolfe, who is overseeing leadership development in the Foundation’s work, has been talking about recently:

  • We flourish because of our diversity and relationships, not in spite of them. A great garden or a wonderful rainforest ecosystem is full of variety, interaction and mutual benefit. However attractive order or compliance may appear, our networks and partnerships are richer in variety; our leadership teams work more effectively in diversity. Our networking need not seek repetition of practice, or even transfer of practice from one context into another, but rather, through diversity and variation, seek a broader and more varied notion of flourishing together.
  • We flourish so we can look outwards and give. In every part of a plant-based ecosystem, there is a future momentum which gives away – this might be in the emergence of a new seed, or the pollination of one species to another. The flourishing is not an end in itself, but the beginning of the next growth. This focuses our leadership thinking not simply on how we can self-improve and become the most successful institutions in isolation, but that we conceive our relationships as outward-looking and generous.
  • Flourishing occurs at different times and speeds – in a beautiful garden, the gardener designs the layout such that through the whole seasons, different plants emerge at different times. Few will consistently flower, and the most spectacular may only last a very short time. This is much like the actual reality of educational institutions and may give some comfort to school leaders trapped in a paradigm of the expectation of continual perfection and constant upward trajectories.
  • We flourish when we stop doing things. It is easy when developing networks and collaborations to focus on the new and innovative. However, wise leaders understand that to start something effectively, there is often a need to stop something else to make space or time.

At the very heart of the Foundation’s work is the development of peer to peer learning communities. It is a core element of our offer to educational leaders and we are thrilled to see them growing as they focus on issues such as curriculum, removing disadvantage, teaching and learning and SIAMS.

Our Rural Schools Networks are now embedded in four Dioceses and we’re excited to have engaged the University of Nottingham to carry out evaluation research. Our Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) Peer Support Network continues to grow and our National Secondary Leadership Network now boasts more than 60 schools.

These networks run alongside the ongoing programmes and qualifications we are running for aspiring heads (CofEPQH), MAT Leaders and Diocesan Education leaders.

Bill Gates once said “we all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” We collect data and feedback from our programmes and networks with great care to ensure we continue to learn. But one piece of unsolicited feedback made me very happy this week. A tweet from a participant on our CofEPQH programme read:

“The results are in...I passed my NPQH! … I honestly cannot recommend @CofE_EduLead highly enough as a provider, it’s is by far the most inspiring and impactful training I’ve ever undertaken.”

This satisfied participant is just one of 150 on the current cohort. That gives us great confidence as we start to recruit the next cohort and continue to work with the over 750 schools now involved in our leadership networks to ensure that educational leadership really does flourish through the work of our Foundation, nourishing young people’s lives in turn.