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Headteacher says optimistic leadership is key to turning education tide ahead of Cambridgeshire Festival of Education

Adrian Kidd, headteacher at Trumpington Community College, sets out the qualities of an optimistic leader and, ahead of the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education on June 15, explains how positive networks can really help to inspire teachers.

From left, Maureen Su, Adrian Kidd and Stuart Gallagher. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, Maureen Su, Adrian Kidd and Stuart Gallagher. Picture: Keith Heppell

The educational landscape seems to be such a political and polarised landscape at the moment,” says Rae Snape, founder and curator for the upcoming Cambridgeshire Festival of Education.

My view therefore in being optimistic and leading with optimism is perhaps more crucial than ever, given the ongoing challenges we face as teachers.

This key message of hope and positivity is interwoven throughout the festival’s fabric, and it presents all educators from all sectors with another important opportunity to come together and connect and collaborate and be inspired by one another.

I recently read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She describes a moment when Barack Obama, still a trainee lawyer, challenged American societal and political difference by asking a roomful of people: “What is better for us? Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

Well ahead of his presidential aspirations, Barack exuded the audacity of hope.

The challenges within the teaching profession are more acute than ever. We go into the final few weeks of this academic year with an education system still dominated by funding cuts, a deepening teacher recruitment and retention crisis, and one sullied by issues such as off-rolling.

These issues make it an easy thing to close ranks and become insular and despondent. Perhaps it is time that we reached out for some audacious hope ourselves.

Leadership is not a hierarchical concept: we are all leaders. It’s how we approach our leadership that defines us. I have had the pleasure to meet and connect with a multitude of inspiring, forward thinking and outward facing people and professionals.

With each new link made, I’ve realised that there are some common characteristics that have defined them as optimistic leaders:

 They are problem solvers who work hard to improve the situation they are in

 They rally people to a better future

 They are more resilient in the face of setback or failure

 They see the big picture

 They are inspiring communicators

 They elicit ‘above and beyond’ human effort

 Their behaviours are infectious, and we would rather our leaders spread optimism.

Sadly, there remains an exodus from the profession: one fifth of all teachers leave in the first two years, and two fifths of teachers, school leaders and support staff at all ages and stages in the first five years.

Many forego leadership opportunities. Meanwhile, headship posts in many schools remain unfilled. Positive networks are essential to stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession.

This cannot be understated. But the tide is beginning to change. Movements and organisations such as WomenEd, Ambition Institute, the Headteachers Roundtable, the Chartered College of Teaching, and professional bodies such as ASCL and NAHT are beginning to positively influence policy and professional development.

There are hints that there is a growing recognition in Whitehall that things can’t go on as they are; Ofsted’s shift to support long-term educational quality over quick-fix gimmicks coming through in its new inspection framework is a step in the right direction; and an increasingly transparent discussion around workload and how to effectively reduce it is gathering momentum.

There is also growing evidence that demonstrates the power behind positive professional networks sustaining and rejuvenating teaching.

So let us be audacious with our hope. Remember there are many great people who are working hard to make things better.

Social media platforms such as Twitter are helping to spread the word, to share the optimism and to connect like-minded people who no longer need to think or work in isolation.

There is a greater exposure to the very people who display all the characteristics described above.

Optimism is very much a force multiplier.

The Cambridgeshire Festival of Education brings with it hope and optimism, and offering the conditions for positive professional collaboration and networking among educators in the region.

It aims to provide opportunities for professional development and inspiration in a fresh new way.

It aspires to bring people together to reinvigorate the profession into one that is joyous again and for these people to continue as optimistic leaders in their own establishments.

Adrian Kidd is headteacher at Trumpington Community College.

He works closely with Ambition Institute, supporting the Future Leaders programme.

See cambsedfest.com. Follow @cambsedfest.

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