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Anyone who advocates three hour lessons (such as the RSA Academy in Tipton) should try and teach one. Whether you are sage on a stage or guide on a side, it’s exhausting. Today I had the daunting challenge of leading three hours with sixty headteachers from South Gloucestershire’s Leadership Academy. The time enabled me to go beyond the specifics of education policy and practice towards some broader issue. In the first half of my presentation, I tried to ban the O-word (Ofsted), F-word (funding) and G-word (guess?), and just about managed it.

We did inevitably talk about the C word of curriculum, as I explored the theme of ‘leadership for changing times’ under the banner of ‘clumsy, connected, curriculum-driven’. RSA has the perfect collateral to take people out of their edu-comfort zones, RSA Animates. Using the three Animates on 21 Century Enlightenment, the power of networks and changing education paradigms as stimuli, I asked participants to reflect on each in turn, and think through the implications for learning, school and system leadership, and policy. I then added my own spin. Without realising it, I followed the classic three-part lesson so loved by the old National Strategies.

Of the three sections, to my surprise it seemed to be Matthew Taylor’s Animate which got them most, er, animated. My fear was that the speech would be too theoretical, and the term ’21 Century Enlightenment’ might be off-putting. However, the animation connected the headteachers to broader issues, especially around ‘defining the ‘x’ rather than rational unquestioning pursuit of supposedly agreed goals. Empathy resonates as a driver for learning and for school to school partnerships.

Headteachers are generally described as doer, tinkerers, pragmatists. But the power of the ideas expressed through the idea of 21st Century Enlightenment (and the power of the animations which deceive you into thinking that the ideas are being presented simply, when in fact the media allows you to pack so much more into the time) resonated throughout the day. I also linked the Animate to Matthew’s latest ideas on clumsy solutions to solve ‘wicked problems’. We’ve never considered this in a school context before, and I can only imagine what OFSTED might say if a headteacher described his or her leadership as ‘clumsy’. Although they didn’t like the term ‘clumsy’, they liked the features, as outlined here. I sidestepped cultural theory for the moment, although, this might provide a useful framework for thinking through power structures in schools and classrooms.

The power of networks Animate led to a discussion on collaboration and a self improving system (which I have blogged about here). Ken Robinson provoked thinking around the new curriculum (where I could use the RSA’s new Grand Curriculum Designs CPD programme to express our beliefs and optimism). Both issues are great examples of ‘wicked problems’ – as is RSA’s name and brand.  The strapline ’21st Century Enlightenment’ might feel like a clumsy solution to this problem, but, when given a bit of life and time, it still has relevance and currency.

In the second half of my presentation, I attempted to facilitate a 90 minute version of our nine month Suffolk Inquiry for South Gloucestershire. Groups were given 30 minutes to ‘define a problem’ relating to the three Inquiry themes, then 30 more minutes to create a solution group, with clear milestones for this Summer and next, that tried to solve the problem. Their commitment and ideas were rich and rigorous, ranging from collaborative approaches to teacher recruitment, to creating ways for isolated and vulnerable schools to lead partnerships, to developing a strategic cross-county approach to linking primary schools to the world of work. Each group's final feedback was filmed, so hopefully they will permit me to share this at some point. Ultimately, thre hours didn’t feel like long enough, but the audience should be the judge of that, not me, and I await the outcome of those evaluation forms with the usual trepidation.


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