An inspiring talk from Andy Wolfe on empowering teachers and leaders in schools, the importance of timing and resilience, and the positive impact this has on learners.
📎 Flourishing Adults, Flourishing Children: Building Resilience and Nurturing Wellbeing in your (MAT) Teams
- Developing flourishing adults by investing in leaders’ character and wellbeing
- Re-thinking resilience and building stronger teams across your MAT
- Practical resources for MAT leaders to work with their teams on the impact of Vision into Practice
- Understanding the Church of England Vision for Education and its pioneering Ethos Enhancing Outcomes approach
💡 Andy Wolfe, Deputy Chief Education Officer (Leadership Development), Church of England
🏫 This session was recorded live on 14th November 2019 in the Recruitment & Workforce Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.
Hello everybody and welcome to this session. My name is Andy and I'm the Deputy Chief Education Officer for the Church of England and oversee all of our approaches nationally to leadership development. We work with MATs right across the country, probably about 1500 of the Church of England schools are academies in some kind of trust. So we're gonna be talking today a little bit about wellbeing and resilience. So um, a lot of what I'm going to be talking about is based on this document, the Church of England vision for education, which some of you may have come across, particularly if you have something directly to do with Church of England schools, whether you lead them or they're part of your mix MATs. This was published in 2016 and it's actually a document that's been written for all schools actually not just for Church of England schools, and really trying to articulate why the Church of England is doing education. I don't know if you know, the scale of it. The Church of England runs nearly 5000 schools in the country, about 20% of all schools are Church of England schools, and it's about 24% of primary schools, about a million children who are in Church of England schools today.
So this vision is for everybody and tries to articulate what we're all about is based around these four areas, wisdom, knowledge and skills, hope and aspiration, community and living well together, and dignity and respect. Again, if you have ever been engaged in constructing the vision for your trust or for your school or for an organisation, you can probably imagine there were a whole array. This looks quite neat now and you know, quadrants and so on, and all kinds of discussions as to what those words should be. It's a real challenge, isn't it to articulate what it is we're really about in education. But I guess the point of all of our work is, unless your vision factual practice, it probably isn't your vision. It probably is just what's written on your wall or on your badge or your strapline. There's this famous quote about vision that it should be lived, not laminated. I don't know if you've kind of come across that. So the I guess the point of this is not so much what are the sort of magic words on the board, but actually, what do we do with them? I want to just focus in today on hope, and aspirations and if you're feeling hopeful or not at this point in the term, and how your terms go on, but it's just a few thoughts on hope.
A leader is a dealer in hope. I don't know whether it's good to quote Napoleon at an event like this or not? Depends how you view history, I suppose. But frequently that is what we're doing isn't in our organisations whether you're working right across a group of schools or in one particular school. I mean, actually, you could cross out leader and right teacher, because essentially what a great teacher does is, you know, they still sell a future that is not yet visible to children. That's basically what teaching is, as a teacher for many years in a secondary school in Nottingham. That's really key. Part of that is a different quote, Martin Luther King, he says we must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. So good things to say to students as you give their test results back. But frequently in our organisations, there's peaks and troughs isn't there. You will no doubt already this term have experienced finite disappointment. I mean, has anything gone wrong in your organisation this term this week today even I mean, you might not know because you're here but we must never lose infinite hope, that's a deep rooted commitment to the next steps. This is Mandela, this has got some really interesting implications for wellbeing and resilience May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears how many of our organisations are actually defined by fear? I'm sure no one sets out to define by fear. But we in some ways, are in an education system that is fuelled by fear, you know, so we're anxious about what if we're judged in this particular way or that particular way and frequently transmit that into our teams. Kierkegaard says, hope is a passion for the possible. Not just a kind of wide eyed naive optimism about everything you know, it's not just about being raised tinted but saying what is actually possible in our setting and, and how might we show that passion for it
The Bible Corinthians says, Therefore, since we have such a hope, we're very bold, we are confident that education should be quite rightly focused on flourishing children. I mean, there wouldn't be many arguments with that, I'm sure. But frequently we stop there rather than recognise that without flourishing adults, there are very unlikely to be flourishing children. I mean, not for long. Anybody who's taught for any length of time knows that you can, you know, you can teach on fumes if you like for a few days. So but, but ultimately, a flourishing adult is the reason why most children learn if you're in a classroom with a flourishing teacher, there's probably no better place to be is that you know, if you think of a teacher that you've seen teach over the last few weeks, and where they as an adult are flourishing, you know, it's incredible privilege. But if you think of people in your organisation who might not be defined as flourishing, it's it's deeply problematic for children, right? But we don't necessarily start with adults. Flourishing adults are in flourishing teams flourishing academies are in flourishing MATs. You get the point? You know, it's not it is about children, of course. But why and how do we flourish, I just want to give a few insights into that. As I dive into this, I must make an apology if there's any committed gardeners in this audience, because I'm going to I'm going to use some kind of tenuous gardening metaphors here. So if if you'd like to correct me about my understanding of horticulture, then please, please do but the word flourishing congers you know that it is about flower, you know, it's about something that's growing and then we see an amazing thing that comes out of it.
We flourish firstly, because of our diversity and relationships. That's why human beings flourish. If you think of a great garden that you know, it's not all daffodils, is it you know, you don't go to an amazing garden and say, just row upon row upon row of daffodils. Great teams flourish because of their diversity. I'm sure you've come across this book, Tom Sherrington Learning Rainforest is really helpful about teaching and learning in this sense. He uses the metaphor of the rainforest, essentially to say, great schools and great academies, they flourish because of their diversity, not because of necessarily solely uniform practice. And he, he contrasts what he calls the learning plantation where there's a set way to do things and you know, we all do exactly the same way. Date has a very high status short term gain interventions with what he calls the learning rain forest where there's high trust, high challenge, it's it's okay to try new things. You're great teachers, that's what they do. That's what we do. We think about new ways to do things and it's a good question for our flourishing as teachers and a staff across the trust. Do you feel like it's okay to try new things and be creative? That's part of it. Flourishing creative approaches delivers a high level of autonomy. I remember at my school in Nottingham being part of a peer coaching programme with, with with one of the other teachers and this was quite early in my career and I was put with basically what everyone knew in the staff room was the best teacher in the school. I don't if you you probably don't have in your schools, it's probably much more. But certainly my perception of this teacher was like, I could never be like her and I went to watch her teaching history and my subject is music and I just couldn't believe how she did it. You know, how ordered it was, how precise how engaging it was, you know, the children had books and pencils and desks and thinking things that I'd never seen in my own music classroom. And then she came and watch me teach. And she said, How do you do that? You know, you're basically teaching like eight different lessons at the same time. And it's, you know, it's, it's loud, it's active and so on. Now, if my headteacher is said, Andy, I want you to go and watch and Kerry on I want you to teach like Kerry because she's successful, and that's how we're going to teach. I'm not sure would have responded that well to that equal if they'd said to her to teach like me, do you see? Do you see what I mean? Like great teaching is not homogenous.
So the second thing we would say about flourishing is that we flourish at different times and different speeds, which is unfortunate for a system that judges schools on a snapshot at one particular time, isn't it? But if you look at this picture, you'll get what I mean, my parents are really into gardening. And they said, You should go and see this garden. It's actually quite a well known garden in Cheshire. And I went to it and I took this photo. And I texted it to my parents saying, why, you know, why did you send me you know, what's so good about this? It's written as rubbish. But why did you go to this garden, and they said, we didn't say to go in February. Now, all I've done is just gone to the place at the wrong time. Now, you see the metaphor that I'm trying to give here, and it happens that we test children are on a one off basis at a particular point in their journeys, when actually young people don't all flourish at the same time or speed and teachers don't, your colleagues don't, but yet we have a tendency to think. Now when we think of flourishing, this is what we think, you know, this is, this is the garden, this is the garden, we're all sort of imagining where it's all bursting into life. Well, it requires some incredibly careful planning and patience and part of wellbeing and resilience in our organisations is patience. I don't know if you've thought about that. But in terms of how you see the adults in your organisation growing, part of it is having the really the highest expectations and clearly defined goals and all of that kind of thing. I wouldn't want to dispel that at all, but part of it is understanding that people grow and develop at different speeds. I do, you do. You know, and it's supplying that.
The third point on flourishing is that we flourish when we stop doing things when I am moved into my the current house that I live in, the garden was a real mess. Like it was overgrown, and it was awful. And I'm not really a gardener, but my friends Nick is and he said, I'll come around and are sorted out for you. I said, great, fantastic. He came around they had like chainsaws and all kinds of stuff. And actually, as he cut back all this stuff, we he finished and he said, he said, that will be fine now you leave that for a couple of months and you watch, it looks awful. Like it I he really kind of decimated this garden. And actually because he was a skilled gardener and what sure enough happened three months later is the right things did grow back, right. But actually, this is an important part of flourishing, choosing wisely what to stop doing, you know, you're leading in a sector that probably can't work much harder. Right? You know, if you if you said you know, what's the magic formula for improvement in your organisation, it probably isn't every person working 10 more hours a week. Just doing more, actually, we need to be courageous enough to say we're going to stop doing this, this, this and this in order to do this. Now, most organisations are very future focused. So we tend to think of what's next, what's growing, what do we need to do now? How do we improve?What's not good enough? But really to take that flourishing seriously, we need to prune back as well and to be courageous enough to say, actually, we're not doing that anymore. It's not actually having an impact on students progress, we need to stop seeing it. The last point I'd want to make about flourishing is that and this is really important for academies and particularly for an academy in a group. We flourish so we can look outwards, you know, again, this is slightly overextending the gardening metaphor, but you often see gardens grow up really well, next door to a house that has a great garden and the reason for that is that pollination is done by bees who don't recognise fences. A that is really cool to kind of get look outwards isn't it you know, the flourishing of one part of your organisation should benefit everybody else. It should happen between MATs rather than competing.
This a verse from the same book two Corinthians. I don't know where you are on your own faith journey. Imagine you received this email today while you were at this event since you excel at everything, in faith in speech, in knowledge and complete earnestness and the love we've kindled in, you see that you excel in this grace, of giving this ability to look outwards. This is part of a vision for flourishing adults in flourishing teens, that kind of makes sense like it is about ultimately, we're in this career for the flourishing of children. And I'm not trying to say you shouldn't pay any attention to the children. I think what we are saying is, if we don't pay attention to the flourishing of adults, then the children won't follow. I think we could all probably tell a story from our own career where that is definitely true. I don't know what you make of this picture. I think it's potential quite provocative and also quite powerful. See what you make of it. The quote leaders who love their pupils recognise the transference of fear that can ensue from macro to school to teachers to pupil. Now they care deeply for mental health and well being of their pupils taking great care of them, particularly the pressure point of exams. Now, what I mean by this picture, is that we're in a system that that transfers fear down, not intentionally. I'm sure nobody who's setting government policies thinking how can we make this really difficult for people? But the consequences of setting any kind of policy or metric is that it creates a response at the next tear down, isn't it? So if you've got a sort of strategic oversight of many schools, you'll then think, okay, for our MAT, how do we, how do we meet the demands of that? And what happens if we don't meet those demands? What happens if we don't grow quick enough? What happens if we don't show enough improvement, and then tacitly that is then transferred into the school context where frequently, I'm sure this isn't the case in your trust, but frequently, teachers in a in an academy in it in a MAT might say, Oh, well, it's just the MAT making us do this. Like it's this sort of separate organisation that occasionally turns up, and that's raised a few smiles and if that resonates with you, but what happens because of that, is that that fear is then transferred ultimately onto children. And if you've, you know, I could say like, through my teaching career, particularly over the last few years, the increase in mental health issues in children, particularly around examinations, is exponentially rising. I don't know if that's your experience, and no teacher is setting out to create that, you know, no one's saying, right? How can I really stress these 10 year olds out, you know, how can I do that? But the reality of our system is that it can transfer that and we've got to be courageous to say we know whether, whether you're this bit of the system or this bit of the system, we need to think about that. What are we actually transferring down? Is it fear, or maybe it's hope and character, maybe it's courage as we as we, as we seek to have that positive impact in the system.
Flourishing. I want to just talk briefly about resilience before we round up, I don't know, if you use the word resilience in your organisation. I think it's probably one of the most overused buzzwords in education, possibly in the public sector, actually. But certainly in education, we kind of have this, this view that if only the teachers were more resilient, if only the children were more resilient. I was thinking a session yesterday and the headteacher said if only these kids were just more resilient, as if it's some kind of magic concept that, you know, if only we had it, we could just turn it on and everything would be okay. We also say about our budgets, about our buildings about our structures. Actually in a British context, I think it's quite an uninspiring thing because it normally can be taken to mean like coping or grit or determination. perseverance. I remember interviewing and one of the leaders that we work with on our programmes nationally. It's about 1000 schools involved in those and I was interviewing a group of them around resilience and she said, resilience to me is coping till I retire. I mean, she wasn't like nearly about to retire this lady. But she was saying coping till I retire. I mean, that was her honest definition. But that's, that's not okay. Is it you know that you don't want to be taught by someone who is coping. So they retired here particularly. So but what actually is going on when we think about resilience? Here's a picture and a quote. The quote uses some religious language. Take that as you wish, but the picture is probably even more important in some ways. If you're a science teacher, what is impossible about this picture? What do you know about Newtonian physics that makes this picture impossible Yeah, that's right a cut the ball can't bounce back higher than the height from which it was dropped unless there is another force acting upon the balls Newtonian physics right? Now, there's some religious language here, which which gives some sense of what we might think, from a Christian point of view is going on. But regardless of where you get that derivation from, if I asked you to think of the three times in your career when you have grown the most in your character, or your leadership, we won't share it because it will be family time and it will get a bit awkward anyway, because the kinds of things you tend to think of at this moment are what kind of experiences challenging experiences right.
You know, if I think of for me in my career, you know, be particular engagements with Ofsted. It'd be a particular pastoral situation I had an encounter. student who lost a lot you know, you land on particular moments where the challenge is actually where you grow the most. Now, what this is not saying is that we kind of skip into school like hoping something will go wrong, you know, just so that we can grow. I don't really mean that at all. But it's recognising that when something is going wrong. That's actually where resilience grows. It's where teams decide whether they're going to stick together or not. So what happens in sport, you know, a team that's losing at halftime, they make one decision really whether to stick together or not. The first decision that they make happens in battle that happens in business happens in our schools. And actually, our greatest times of challenge can be our greatest growth because, you know, we believe that we're actually formed, you could sell out in the crucible of the challenge as the heat rises, that actually refines us. And so it's not to say you know, you think kind of bring on the crisis, I hope something goes wrong. But if your organisation is facing something difficult, it is actually a potentially a really strong moment for your growth. If you're brave enough to have that conversation, I want to just recommend a couple of books to you that you might find interesting on this. The first one is by Brené Brown. I don't know if you know, Brené Brown's work. She's American psychologist and her TED talk is the third most watched TED talk of all time. It's about vulnerability and shame. And I remember when somebody said, you should watch this, I was a bit offended, like, why would I want to watch it talk about shame and vulnerability. It's actually an amazing and talk and in it she discusses this concept of vulnerability in leadership, which is totally fundamental to our wellbeing and resilience. Then if you can read it, because it's in a slightly funny font, some of it but she says like, there's certain things we need to let go off to cultivate other things. So letting go of what people think, to cultivate authenticity. So really interesting idea. You know, one of the key things our education system is built on is comparing one another isn't. It's a classic thing like, Oh, you might meet someone today, even who's wearing a similar mat to you, you should go and check them out, visit them and see what they're like, actually, you can learn plenty from your colleagues, but actually your core to be an authentic version of you, not a copy of somebody else. Letting go of perfectionism, to cultivate self compassion. I think, you know, education is probably overpopulated with perfectionists and the teaching profession, you know, we want everything to be perfect. It's not possible always and we need to have some compassion with ourselves. We need a culture that says it's okay. Not to work till 2am every morning. That's okay. A bit further down, this one's in really funny writing. So I definitely this one, letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol, and productivity as self worth. I don't know if you've experienced this. I meet a lot of people in my role all around the country and frequently will ask like how's it going at the moment? How's your term going? And nearly every person I've ever met will say, it's just a really busy time at the moment, nearly every single person. And it's interesting that they always say they're busy. I don't think I've ever met anyone who's ever said it's quite chilled, November, you know and they always say at the moment as if there's a time when it's not busy. And we propagate that because we were as a status symbol I do. I love to tell you where I've been speaking already this morning and how I've had a difficult journey, because it's good for my ego, isn't it? In the same, you know, we all do, I'm being vulnerable with you. Productivity is self worth. We also do that. You know, we we define ourselves by the number of hours we've worked or the number of things we've achieved and actually, this book, she says, cultivate play, and rest. I don't know if your school or your Academy Trust has got a play and rest policy. Maybe not. I don't know. I don't mean that flippantly. What I mean is like you want your teachers to be rested not asleep every afternoon. But you want them to arrive in the classroom thinking, I've got the resources I need mentally and physically to deliver a quality lesson. You know, I'm a parent, my kids are 12 and 10. They're in school right now. I hope they've been taught by somebody who has got rest in their life. I really do. I don't mean that flippantly. You know, that's a really important part of resilience and wellbeing the next one down is a tougher one to respond to letting go of anxiety, as a lifestyle, take mental health issues in adults really seriously, but we're not good at talking about them. And if I said to you, how many of you have ever broken a bone in your body? Just raise your hand? Have you ever broken a bone in your body? Right? Okay, so it's about half of you know, and thought two things about putting the hand up. And if I then said, How many of you are currently struggling with anxiety or depression or stress in your workplace? How many would you quickly raise your hands? Some of you would, but generally, British people were a bit like oh, no, oh, no. When actually people in your organisation's there they have anxiety as a lifestyle. I mean, you, you probably don't put that on your on yourself but you know that that needs dealing with and we need to create space for stillness and common meaning. So I really recommend that book to you around vulnerability.
There's also a great section if you are a parent about parenting and how parenting is really about creating a role model. She basically says, are you, the adult, you'd like your children to become? An interesting question if you're a parent and a teacher. The second book I'd like to recommend to you is this one, it's called falling upward. It's about dealing with failure. Again, I was slightly nervous when somebody gave me this book and said, Andy, this is a book about failure. I think you should read it. But it's basically about accepting that things go wrong. And it's this quote here. The human ego prefers anything just about anything to failing. So if that's true for you, choose for me I hate, if something goes wrong today, I thought I was gonna be late for this thing it was it was in turmoil in the car, something's going wrong, something's gonna go bad. Actually, this book is really helpful. It's saying actually things do go wrong, and you can grow through them and it's actually a good part of the human journey. You don't need to seek those experiences. You don't need to think, gosh, how can I create a crisis in my life, but actually, for all of us, we experience challenging moments or our organisations do. And he goes on to say, all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey. No one had ever told me that I'm age 40. Nobody ever said to me that it's okay if things go wrong because I've been brought up in education system that's defined me by success or failure since I was four, as have you all different moments where you're put in one box or another box, you still do it now in your career in your material possessions and your relationships and your whatever. Last thing before we finish, it's a really practical thing you can do with your teams. And I don't know, when you're driving along, you know, when the fuel gauges getting near the red. I don't know if you're somebody who allows it to get really near the red or not. Who's that kind of person? You're comfortable? Yeah. Oh, wow, nearly all of you. Amazing. Maybe that's just teachers waiting for payday and this model says, as a leader, there are certain things in well being that you should have your eye on fuel gauges for your organisation that you should have your eye on as a leader at all times. Imagine if you had these fuel gauges in your office vision, value, trust and joy and it gave me some feedback about how the people, the adults in particular in your organisation, were feeling. Vision, we mean, do we know where we're going? That's our vision means do we know where we're gaining value? Does anyone notice if I'm not there? Good question about value. Not does anybody value me? Because no one can actually define that? How would you know that? Oh, they always remember my birthday or they pay me. Actually just two people notice if you're not there, it's a good question. Trust. I mean, you run organisations that have the word trust in them the title. So that's, that's a clues in the name almost. But teaching is a very odd career in that you're normally always with children and away from your colleagues. So do you trust each other? And lastly, Joy. Not are you kind of high fiving each other in the car park? You know, just another great opportunity but do you have that deep sense of personal vocation which actually creates good teaching, and your aim as the author, you can do this with your teams, give this out to them, get them all to fill it in, do it anonymously else, it gets really awkward, and then aggregates it and you'll end up with an organisational fuel gauge that looks something like this. Now in this averaged out version, this organisation the vision is strong. They know where they're going. But they don't feel valued. They don't trust each other and they hate working there. Now, it's flippant in one way, but sometimes in leadership we over prioritise vision. Like, do we know the vision? Does everyone know it? Have we got it? Can the children recite it? Do all our documents resonate with it when actually, we need some joy. Like if I told you I did this survey in your trust today, and it came out like this, what would you do? If you knew that on average, your joy is about to run out in your organisation? What would you do a ignore it or be do something about it? I mean, hopefully do something about it, but you need to get that inside. So I guess what I'm trying to show in this is that that kind of vision and those those character things that the idea of flourishing, you know, is colourful language in a way, but it's actually totally fundamental to the way that our team's work. You may even yourself could look at that right now. Where do you put the fuel gauge for yourself? The reality is that these are the reasons why people are sticking in your teams and choosing to work for your organisation long term, not the paying conditions or the classroom they get or whatever. So hopefully that's been a useful way into thinking about some of those subjects the idea of flourishing, and the idea of resilience. If you'd like to stick around and chat a little bit more, I'm only too delighted to stay and have a bottle of water with anybody, seeing as I run right across the carpark to be here. But hopefully that's been useful. Thank you very much. Have a good rest of the day.
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