Last Friday I attended the Hampshire Local Conference for school governors at Winchester's Holiday Inn Hotel. The audience was a mix of primary school and secondary school governors with me and my fellow secondary governors definitely in the minority.
The Deputy Director of Children's services opened the meeting with some comments relating to the county's interaction and support of schools plus some thoughts on key challenges and priorities for the future,
The rest of the day was given over to Liz Cross who talked on the wide ranging topic of "Leading in Challenging & Changing Times".
Liz is a founding partner in The Connectives and their website says that she is "known for bringing real break through thinking and fresh energy in her strategic work with organisations across voluntary, private and public sectors." and on the basis of what she delivered at the conference I can well believe that this is true.
Drawing on her extensive personal experience in governance she took us through considerations of the political, social and economic challenges facing governors; some models of leadership; considerations of different leadership styles and their impact; influence models; approaches to measurement and much more.
A big recurring theme through the day was the importance of partnerships and thinking more broadly than just the school gates. Students only spend a comparatively small percentage of their waking hours in school and a lot of what happens outside school hours will influence their educational achievement. Challenging question then is what are we doing as governors to drive increased partnership with other organisations that could help to deliver stronger outcomes?
There was much to take from the day but for me a few of the key points were :-
Importance of not getting distracted by other people's agendas and keep focused on what matters. In the midst of a discussion on another circular on a topic you didn't know you needed to know about it can be difficult to keep that focus on strategic outcomes we desire.
Everything you do has an impact and need to consider how to get the best out of people not write them off. Martin Luther King's famous speech "I have a dream" didn't then go on to say but I'm worried the rest of you aren't up to it! Rather it sold a vision and invited people to be part of it. In all of our interactions as governors we need to find opportunities to build up those we interact with - be they staff, pupils or other governors. Find something positive to say and you can have a real impact. Nice quote from Rosamund Stone Zander "When leadership is defined not as a position you hold, but as a way of being, you discover you can lead from where ever you are." Don't underestimate the power we have to influence one child, one conversation, one community at a time.
The ability to keep on learning is key - what are we doing to ensure that the school turns out children who can continue to acquire skills and knowledge over the rest of their lives? What do we think the world is going to be like in the future and are we preparing our children for it adequately?
Are we spending time discussing the right things? What items get discussed with the governing body and which items are just acted on by the school's leaders? Do we spend time talking about the decisions where it is clear that there is only one real option or do we spend time on the 49/51 decisions that are more finely balanced. When there is no other choice why do we spend time discussing it?
When facing a big decision do we consider in what way it helps or hinders the attainment of the vision we have for the school?
Discussion on the question of whether it's a good idea to have students on the governing body. Why not have election at the end of the year to choose a couple of students from the top year group who will come back next year and be part of the governing body. Doing this removes challenge of having them take part in decisions that affect them directly (ie as current pupils) but at the same time capitalises on their recent experience as a "user of the service".
All in all a very good day with lots of thought provoking discussion. If you you are a governor and ever find yourself invited to an event where Liz is speaking I'd encourage you to go - I don't think you'll regret it.