Probiotic listening?

10th February 2020

The virtues of probiotics are often shared at this time of year. This could be a wonderful marketing exercise or there might be something in it. The idea of ‘good bacteria’ in the gut is an interesting concept, but one that seems to have taken off. The current manifestation of this is Kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt, which is infused with kefir grains. Supposedly, this has beneficial effects on our immune system. The tenuous link (I hope) to make is - what is the education world’s equivalent?


The probiotic in education, in my view, is listening. As educational leaders, the pressures around leadership, performance, management, expectations and accountabilities are constantly calling us towards the action imperative. Do this, do that, bring the next change in, introduce a new policy and add more. Much of this is fine and part of the demands of the job. However, like so much in life, a balance needs to be struck.

Listening to staff and children can be our probiotic yogurt drink. It allows us as leaders to spend time considering the impacts and demands of our decisions. We all know the types of schools we wish to lead and the expectations we have of our initiatives.  Sometimes, however, our vision can become a little hazy further down the line.

Education leaders need to spend more time listening (and talking) to the students. We work hard at improving lessons, but how do we know if this is effective? We consider homework policies or playground routines but possibly do not spend enough time listening to children’s experiences following our decisions.

Teachers too need to feel heard. Listening is a vital strength of any effective Headteacher – yet rarely do we feel the pressure to do this against the backdrop of other concerns.

Put centrally in our leadership style, listening and talking can become a centrepiece of our culture. A keystone from which all else is built around. As a Trust, we are currently in the planning stage of constructing a Trust -wide survey. In consultation with the Headteachers on Thursday, we wish to propose a questionnaire which will help guide us next year and the year after.

Jack Mayhew, Executive Headteacher  Athena Schools Trust