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Two ears and one mouth - for a reason

12th October 2020

The old adage ‘we have two ears and one mouth, for a reason’ is one that leaders at all levels can look to embrace more often. I know I need to remember this more often than I currently do. We can become all to obsessed with directive styles of leadership, falling into the trap of providing all the answers, when on many occasions leadership needs to manifest itself differently.

As I tour round schools, socially distant, I am reminded by observing our headteachers, business leaders, teachers and governors that leadership is not always about issuing instruction. Indeed, in this autumn term like no other, the time for communicating regulations and local arrangements has faded slightly. At the start of term, quite rightly, school communities needed direction and clarity. As circumstances change within schools this requirement remains. However, I have noticed a depth of leadership within our schools that is also required, and two weeks before half term, is perhaps required more than ever. Listening. Presence.

Blog2Listening and presence are two unsung but critical factors in effective leadership. Shoe leather is thin on the ground in our leaders’ shoes currently. We are seeking to provide a constant presence in our schools, a calming figure on the playground at drop-off, a supportive smile on playground duty and a nod of encouragement before a colleague presents at leadership team, a governors meeting or an on-line parent forum. We are being present. Our school communities need this. Walking alongside is just as much a leadership action as leading from the front.

Often this shared path and side-by-side leadership requires us to listen more than we speak. We are all aware that the challenge for teachers in the classroom is real and palpable currently. The continuous classroom movement lesson by lesson and day by day, often but not uniquely, by our secondary colleagues, is exhausting. The sharing of lesson resources online and in the classroom is new. It is appropriate and being undertaken without question, but it is different and occupies ‘bandwidth’ amongst our staff. We recognise this effort. We appreciate this effort. As leaders we stand beside and listen. Staff aren’t always after solutions, or quick wins. They are after solidarity. They need presence and someone to listen.

This week sees us begin more structured listening. As we consider the future direction of the Trust and explore a potential future relationship with GEP we are seeking to be consultative listeners. In our Headteacher and Business Manager meetings this week we are looking to ask what it is that we need to consider and remember what makes Athena, Athena. Our JGC representatives are canvassing LGB opinions and perspectives. Do we want to come together as Trusts? What might be the benefits and what might be the risks? Is this a path we wish to take? This activity is going to be undertaken with a variety of stakeholders across the coming weeks so to allow the broad to effectively listen and consider the direction of our next strategic challenge. Thank you all for taking part.

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes the balance of twice as much listening and speaking gets lost. For now, we remember to lead through presence and listening. Have a good week and get those ears working.

Jack Mayhew, Executive Headteacher  Athena Schools Trust

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