One of the things about taking a serious look at the work you have done over the past year is that you gain a sense of why you did it – what was the ground out of which it grew. We spent last Friday at school looking hard at the impact of our vision as a school through the actions and attitudes that have derived from it. The outcomes are exciting for the future and significant because more people now know why we are doing what we are doing, and more people have a wider view of the intent and purpose of Christ the Sower as a school.
At the beginning of the month, the leadership team met with Paul Carlile from the Restorative Foundation to try and decide on the next stages in our work on building flourishing relationships, so that all we did at school was done restoratively. This is not an easy matter at all, and the discussion notes I wrote up afterwards challenged me (as well as excited me) considerably. One of the main fruit of that discussion was the new realisation that restorative practice has to be rooted completely in how a school sees itself – you cannot restore to something you have not created. From my notes, this garbled phrase:
Exciting: because I could see how the work we have done with climate and leadership behaviours from the Glowinkowski “root” has been in tune with the ethos of Restorative Practice, which I had not seen before so clearly, and because I could see the mileage and power that there was in asking the deep questions – What is this school for? What is its vision for? What view of the future of the school is guiding the way I conduct myself as a leader?
Those questions – What is this school for? What is its vision for? What view of the future guides my conduct? are worth asking perpetually, and lie underneath the vision for the school that we wrote last year.
Reviewing it together for the first time was a revelation to me. I had been tentative about the original vision statement, I suppose, because of its overt commitment to God being at the centre of what we do, and now that I have seen this way of looking at school gain a much wider acceptance, it was thrilling to see the level of hard work and engagement present as we reviewed it together.
The presentation I used was deliberately linking into Wendell Berry’s agrarian vision of life – a background from a North Shropshire field, pictures from South Shropshire harvests – and ourselves as farmers checking all that has to be done. It was also a deliberate attempt to relate our work on the vision and school development to the new understanding of chaplaincy being developed by Tracey Feil, Helena Ratcliffe and others to replace the work that Nick Adlem has done for 5 years at Christ the Sower. I want to write more fully on that later on, but a picture of the summation of nearly 5 months of hard work and discussion about the future of chaplaincy was presented by Tracey to the whole staff on Friday, and a sneak preview of the amazing work is in order. Here it is:
With a name like ours, of course, agrarian metaphors are not far away, but nevertheless, they have a consistent power, and are worth exploring each time we get a new angle. For a start, they remind us, always, that we have an organic not an organisational approach, that growth will happen when it will happen, under God, and not because we force it. We are not, and never will, be a factory farm, and we invite each other to criticise the leadership if we get factory-ish or industrial or mechanical. In Wendell Berry’s words (writing of course about agriculture, but equally applicable to the cultivation of children):
It has become increasingly clear that the way we farm affects the local community, and that the economy of the local community affects the way we farm; that the way we farm affects the health and integrity of the local ecosystem, and that the farm is intricately dependent, even economically, upon the health of the local ecosystem. We can no longer pretend that agriculture is a sort of economic machine with interchangeable parts, the same everywhere, determined by “market forces” and independent of everything else. We are not farming in a specialist capsule or a professionalist department; we are farming in the world, in a webwork of dependences and influences more intricate than we will ever understand. It has become clear, in short, that we have been running our fundamental economic enterprise by the wrong rules. We were wrong to assume that agriculture could be adequately defined by reductionist science and determinist economics (Renewing Husbandry, 2004).
Thus, the work we did together on Friday had to start from the view we had of the future, a determined, proactive picture of how to act now so we could achieve what we desire then. This was Paul Carlile’s insight – we have to know what kind of school we want to be before we know really how we want to behave, act and teach. It seems obvious enough, but I was so geared up to the reviewing of the details of the School Development Plan (how exciting does that now sound?) that I could easily have missed it, and it came as a welcome relief once I began to plan the day. To have 48 staff and governors engaged in this process was a privilege enough to see. To see, as became obvious, the vitality and commitment of those same people that we should have a vision worth taking the trouble over, was even more of a privilege. Visions tend to be less hard nosed in their language than action plans, and the challenge was to identify attitudes and actions we had adopted or taken to see the vision fulfilled. However, because of this, they are also harder to evaluate mechanistically, and that is their strength. They become fulfilled in people, their attitudes, their transformation and learning and in their relationships, not in scores or levels. I suppose there may be a school somewhere (please do not tell me where) whose vision is to have “100% Level 4 and above and at least 60% level 5 at the end of Key Stage 2”. Hopefully not. Visions inspire and motivate, not measure.
The evaluative work that everyone did on the vision, and the understanding of what had been done to implement it, were consistent across the whole staff – it did not seem to matter which of the different paragraphs of the vision had been studied and reviewed. The Wordle of the 30 most common words came out like this:
The actual document of the vision review can be found here. This seems more organic to me, rather than deterministic. I love it that children and worship are near the top, whilst learning, staff and children are the big three words from the review. It is good to see attitudes and expectations in there too, and the fact that restorative and language make a big impression is also interesting. The 100 words version looks like this – and the important bits stand out even more. Finding negative words is a bit of a challenge here – that too is pleasing, as it would be easy to concentrate on the things we had not done (teachers are really good at that, are we not?).
So, to conclude, can I please say a huge thank you to the 48 staff and governors who came and reviewed this, and then went through the trauma of actually evaluating the School Development Plan as well – it was quite a morning and everyone worked at such an engaged level, I am glad we have a week to get over it.