The end of term last Friday saw the usual reflection – and communication of that reflection – and the subsequent considered thanksgiving that good friends and colleagues offer each other. It is for me one of the best times of the year, alongside Christmas – a time when I can think of the people I have served with and in a short message (fitting inside a card, or the back of a postcard) try and communicate what I actually feel about their contribution. I wish I could do it more, actually, and as I write I am conscious of many people I would have loved to spend more time writing to. I have 6 weeks to rectify that, as it happens!

I myself was the happy recipient of a number of these cards, from adults and children, and they were deeply moving this year. What moved me more than anything was the refrain found in at least 5 of the cards I received from adults that they were grateful that I “had believed in them.” I was genuinely surprised, because it raised all sorts of questions about my leadership style. I have consciously said once this year to a single teacher that “I believed in her” – and there was no mention of that made in any card! But somehow these five generous-hearted people were impacted; apparently, many of the things that I wind up thinking, saying and doing somehow convey that faith in people that I hope I would convey. But what is perplexing, and what bears analysis, is the actions that lead to that. And what was also really sobering is that I have never felt that about any of the leaders that I have served. I am thinking of the 5 headteachers I have served under and perhaps only one – Jean Williams, who employed me as an NQT over 20 years ago – came close to articulating that. Talking to a friend at church about this idea, we agreed that we had never served a vicar or pastor who said that they believed in us. In all the sermons we hear, we rarely are taught that God trusts or believes in us – we are always urged to trust him, to believe in him, and yet, in sending Jesus to earth, God has made some startling assertions: you are worth bothering about; I know what you are going through; you are worth dying for; you are beloved; I trust you to obey me. These assertions are summed up in the banner that Clover class at Christ the Sower have as their class virtue – that we trust God, yes, but that he also trusts us, in His covenant, in His provision and in His love.

So what is it that we do as leaders that inspires adults to the extent that they get the message that we believe in them? For two people at Christ the Sower this summer, this belief in them has (seemingly, and among other factors) changed their life course from career uncertainty to being willing to train as teachers. Our loss, unfortunately, but some lucky children’s gain. I think it is important that we try and articulate this faith we have in people and, without wanting to create a strategy for it, at least know how we can increase it, and what factors might threaten it.

Here are some ideas – open to discussion, certainly, and not expounded fully, but they might be pointers:

  • Communicate often, and personally, using the language of the heart as well as the mind
  • Accept unreservedly
  • Support first, ask questions afterwards
  • Separate out the person from their actions always
  • Praise whenever possible, and if possible, when impossible as well (possibly)…
  • Make people feel glad they came and worked here (that involves communication, acceptance and smiling a lot)
  • Change the organisation to fit around what they have to offer
  • Model the kind of work ethic you want
  • Articulate the vision you hold and encourage people to join it as partners: describe the reality of the “now” but place your hope in a preferred future with them in it!
  • Notice things, especially moods, changes of approach, new strategies tried…
  • Giving them a job (this really helps, I suppose, in fostering belief in a person!)

There will be more, and perhaps these are not the “deepest” bit of thinking. But I wanted to start the conversation.

A colleague of mine who fosters children said to me a couple of years ago – I don’t tell children “I love you” – because how many people have said that in the past and gone on to abuse them? – but I say “I believe in you.” It puts a bit of your trust and faith in them to work, and gives them something to live up to.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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