CEO Strategy Group 1 (Meeting Two) – Pupil and Staff Wellbeing

The second meeting of Forum Strategy’s CEO Strategy Group 1 – focused on pupil and staff wellbeing – took place on Friday 22 January, and was attended by over 25 CEOs. The group is one of three currently looking at key strategic issues for CEOs.

In opening the session the chair, Gary Wilkie (CEO of Learning In Harmony Trust) stressed the importance of using time together in a positive and strategic way. He reflected that in these times of perpetual ‘Groundhog Day’ so many of us feel that our mood and general wellbeing is in a state of constant flux. Whilst sharing the goal that the session would be an uplifting one, he also challenged the group to consider whether online meetings that are currently meant to be cathartic and supportive are actually adding to stress levels, with participants taking on the pressures and challenges of others without necessarily releasing their own.

The group took the opportunity to share strategies and reflect upon how they are currently managing their own wellbeing and that of others. Many participants used the chat function to speak of the power of positivity; whether through sharing positive messages from parents, ensuring that there are effective cross trust communication structures to enable the sharing of workload, or by providing uplifting CPD sessions for staff. There was also wide acknowledgement of the importance of concentrating upon issues within your own ‘circle of control’, and the value of sometimes just seeing those things that sit outside of your circle of influence as being ‘white noise’ that can be ignored.

CEOs revisited the circle of control

Many participants shared how mindfulness and other relaxation techniques were helping them. Dr Alan Lee, CEO of Bedfordshire Schools Trust spoke with passion about the impact that mindfulness has had on him personally, sharing with the group information about the University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre and their free resources.

There was also a reflection upon the value, or not, of social media at this time, with agreement regarding the importance of ‘getting the balance right’ when using it, and a need to have mindful reflection on whether current use is helping or hindering. Reference was made to Katie Whirledge’s recent blog for Forum within which she reflects upon the responsibilities of a CEO across all areas of communication during this period.

Mark Russell, CEO of the Children’s Society, then joined the group to reflect upon how the Children’s Society are acting upon the commitment that they made at the last meeting to commit their resources to projects where they are working alongside Multi-Academy Trusts. A range of exciting ideas have been scoped at an initial meeting between the Children’s Society and CEOs with follow up meetings planned shortly.

The most substantial input and discussion at the meeting was led by David Weston CEO of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT). David shared some of the current finding of his organisation’s research into the link between teacher working environments and pupils outcomes. David started by reflecting upon how effective school (and therefore teacher) development should not be seen as a series of initiatives to be implemented, but as a deliberately built culture which contains the systems and habits that foster improvement. He emphasised that CPD should not be seen simply as a vehicle for getting ideas into a school, but as an ongoing habit of successful teams.

David was keen to acknowledge that discussions around school culture frequently suffer from both a lack of clarity of terms and a lack of evidential rigour. TDT’s forthcoming Working Paper – ‘A culture of improvement’ is attempting to redress this issue by reflecting upon the research on teacher working conditions. Whilst at this stage the evidence shows association rather than causation regarding the link between working conditions and outcomes, five aspects of teacher’s working conditions that appear to be most closely associated with increased student attainment are starting to emerge:

  • Creating effective teacher collaboration to explore student data, plan and review lessons and curricula, and plan and moderate assessments,
  • Involving teachers in whole school planning, decision making and improvement,
  • Creating a culture of mutual trust, respect, and enthusiasm in which communication is open and honest,
  • Building a sense of shared mission, with shared goals, clear priorities and high expectations of professional behaviours and students’ learning, and
  • Facilitating classroom safety and behaviour, where disruption and bullying are very rare and teachers feel strongly supported by senior leaders in their effort to maintain their classroom environment.

In reflecting upon the implications of these working findings for trust leaders the group reflected upon the need for leaders to be aware of their role in culture creation. There was much reflection upon the importance of leadership teams fully understanding the importance of ‘trust and honesty’, and how the work of people like Amy Edmondson, Kim Scott and Patrick Lencioni is being used by colleagues to frame conversations, and influence training sessions.

There was also much discussion about how staff can feel more involved in whole school planning, decision making and improvement with many on the call sharing the value of regular staff surveys to gain an insight into the extent to which staff feel that they are an integral part of the ‘shared mission’ of the organisation. This is enhanced by staff feeling that they are getting the professional development that they deserve. Whilst the twin challenges of defining what CPD is and how it can be identified discreetly within a schools budget return were acknowledged, David challenged the group to consider whether the industry training budget standard of 1% is being met within schools. Ashfaq Rahman, CEO of Nova Education Trust, shared with the group how he felt that quantifying 100 hour annual training entitlement for teachers in his trust appears to be having a very positive impact.

Finally, Michael Pain challenged the group to reflect upon the importance of executive and senior leader coaching. In reinforcing the characteristics of effective executive coaching – and the environment within which it needs to exist to be successful – Michael identified the question, ‘are you approaching your leadership development and leadership ‘health’ as a bean-counter or as an investor?’, as the litmus test as to whether trustees and CEOs are approaching their organisational strategy in the correct way. Michael also took the opportunity to remind the group of what to look for when identifying an executive coach, a role that Forum Strategy are able to facilitate for colleagues. You can read Michael’s recent blog on ‘Coaching The CEO’ here: Coaching the CEO

Group 1 will meet again in the Spring, with suggestions for future sessions including: further reflections upon ensuring trust culture across schools, without overwhelming individual school identity; how our approach to flexible working may need to change post-pandemic to reflect the changing demands of the workforce; and how new approaches to appraisal and performance management can have the wellbeing of staff at their heart.

CEO Strategy Group 2 – on remote learning and working – meets on 4th February 2021. If you are a individual CEO or COO member of Forum Strategy, you can book onto the event here: Events | Forum Strategy

The slides from the session are available for members to download


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Find out more about the other two CEO strategy groups here:

CEO Strategy Group 3 – Environmental Sustainability | Forum Strategy

CEO Strategy Group 2 -Remote learning and working | Forum Strategy


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