Education Executives – An Interview with Lisa Peterkin

Lisa Peterkin, Secondary Education Director, Education for the 21st Century Trust (E21C)

In 2021, Forum Strategy launched its new membership offer for those in executive leadership levels across Trust (such as School Improvement Directors, Education Directors, Executive Heads and those leading Trust wide specialisms) – Education Executives. The membership includes a range of benefits from access to executive coaching, to specific workshops run by Paul Ainsworth & Debbie Clinton and including all the usual Forum Strategy aspects such as regular briefings, resources and additional events. After one year of running the membership, we talk to Lisa Peterkin about her experiences as an executive leader, including her membership with Forum Strategy.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I am excited to be working for the Education for the 21st century trust (E21C); I joined the trust as Executive Head for the Bromley region just under two years ago, and I am now just starting out in the new role of Secondary Education Director.

I have been in teaching for over 25 years now, most of that time has been spent working in schools in South London, with some experience teaching in inner city Birmingham; in my current role I work in outer London, Bromley and Kent. Before joining the Education for the 21st Century trust I worked for 10 years at a secondary school in Mitcham, St Mark’s C of E academy. I started out there as deputy head, and subsequently became the headteacher; during the last 3 years of working in that role I was also the school improvement advisor for the Lambeth borough, having the opportunity to work with heads and senior leaders.

I’m also a married mum of three beautiful children, and I began my first headship when I was pregnant with my first child, followed by twins 18 months later.

My leadership journey has been, and continues to be, interesting, challenging, and fun.

What opportunities have you had so far in your career?

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of people along the way who have believed in me and supported me to progress in my career. When I was a headteacher, I had the chance to work with another local authority and support their headteachers, whilst also supporting the NPQs programme at ambition; this work continues in my executive leadership capacity. Opportunities undoubtedly come through networking, and through that leadership prospects have arisen that perhaps I wouldn’t have considered myself ready for otherwise, I probably would’ve just kept my head down and got on with the job in hand. I’ve found that opportunity breeds opportunity really, so if you involve yourself in something new, new paths can then emerge from that. I’ve also had the privilege to work with and support some really skilled and talented colleagues to become great leaders, and I’m proud of the fact that those colleagues are continuing to excel and do great things for more young people.

“If you involve yourself in something new, new paths can then emerge from that”

What challenges have you faced?

I think a key challenge has always been ensuring that I’m spending my time on the right things, and I’ve overcome that through continually reflecting on my priorities and how my day-to-day actions are impacting on those priorities. It also felt like a challenge to move from a role in a school I knew very well, with people I knew very well, and start again in a new role, but that was a great chance to increase my impact on more people so that young people continue to be successful. I have always used challenges as an opportunity. I know that I continue to  grow in my leadership skills as I’ve kept learning new things, meeting new people, developing new systems, creating great teams etc.  All of these things have accelerated my professional development whilst driving school improvement.

What is involved in your current role, and how is executive leadership different to other roles you have had in the past?

My role is to support the leaders across the secondary schools in our trust, and to do that in a way that helps the trust to fulfil our mission to improve outcomes and transform lives. My days vary in terms of daily routine, but the overarching aim of my role is to create aligned autonomy through disciplined innovation, and collaborate with amazing leaders to provide systems and structures that deliver on our school improvement. We’re quite a new trust – our CEO has been instrumental in our transformation, and truly inspirational to me as a new executive leader. Since his appointment he’s created a new group of executive leaders, so a lot of work has been focussed on developing and clarifying who we are as a trust including our reason for being, what we stand for, what we are aiming to do, and how we go about achieving that. This has been described using our four critical questions of; why we exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How do we succeed?

“The world of education can be quite insular, but the speakers and texts that we are exposed to in the programme from beyond the education sector provide a broader range of thinking and scope”

Ensuring the implementation of the trust’s vision and aims across all our schools is central to my role, including helping to develop the buy-in and the systems to ensure we are making our vision a reality. I spend a lot of my time working with and developing others, and developing consistency of practice across the trust. I also quality assure key systems and structures and put in place the relevant support. If there are gaps, we focus on addressing those, whilst also developing the talent within the organisation to support that work.

The biggest difference I have found being an executive leader, compared to my previous roles, has been around systems leadership – making sure that the trust’s values, aims and standards are being implemented really well, and consistently, across all eight of our schools, and developing people in a positive and impactful way in the process

What was it that attracted you to join Forum Strategy’s Education Executive membership? 

I was new to executive leadership, and I wanted the opportunity to network, to hear other’s stories, and to hear other people talk about how they had succeeded within the role and how they had overcome challenges. I wanted to be inspired by the experience of others, and to get to know other people in a similar position to me. I was also attracted to the membership because I knew the programme drew on sources beyond the world of education, and I was interested in learning from a wide-range of people and sectors.

How have you found the workshops?

The workshops have done all the things they said they were going to do on the tin, including bringing a network of people together, developing theoretical understanding, and drawing upon expertise both within and beyond the world of education. I’ve found the workshops  to be very coherent and well sequenced, and it is clear how all the sessions link together.

The world of education can be quite insular, but the speakers and texts that we are exposed to in the programme from beyond the education sector provide a broader range of thinking and scope. One of the sessions I was particularly inspired by was the session with Diane Ketley, Associate at NHS Horizons. Despite being from a different sector, it was enlightening to discover that the NHS is rooted in very similar complexities to the education sector. Diane was an excellent speaker, and shared a simple but powerful model that had been developed around the spread and adoption of innovation and improvement at scale in the NHS which I found very useful in my own work. She was also very receptive to questions.  It was an excellent exemplar of working collaboratively with, and learning from, other sectors.

How have you found the experience of having a coach as part of the membership?

I think having a coach is a really powerful addition to the membership because it means that what you learn during the workshops can’t just be left in the theoretical sphere. The coaching provides the space to think about how you are going to put the learning from the workshops into practice in your role and in your own context, and plan how you are going to take tangible action. It provides both support and accountability. Having a coach has been a great next step for me; it’s definitely enabled me to grow as a leader.

“Having a coach is a really powerful addition to the membership because it means that what you learn during the workshops can’t just be left in the theoretical sphere. The coaching provides the space to think about how you are going to put the learning from the workshops into practice in your role and in your own context.”

What has the impact of the membership been on your practice?

I’ve definitely used things I have learned through the membership directly in my role, including when planning sixth form strategy and developing behaviour routines. It has also directly influenced my thinking around what I want to achieve in my new role as Secondary Director, and I planned a strategic document for my CEO using a model that was shared during one of the Education Executive workshops.

I’ve also greatly benefitted from having the space to reflect on my leadership through the programme, including how I come across, what it is that allows me to be successful, and to consider any obstacles to my development and how I might overcome them. So it’s enabled me to engage in quality reflection as well as learning.

What would your advice be to other people looking to step into an executive leadership role in the future?

Go for it, and don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back.

Be open to learning new things, and don’t be afraid to not know it all, because that actually allows more space for active learning.

Put aside the time to regularly review and reflect on what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis in the role, because it’s all too easy to end up constantly busy and immersed in the daily demands of the job. It’s really important for emerging executive leaders to give themselves the space to learn and reflect.

Education Executives

To find out more about our Education Executives membership, click below.

 Applications are currently open until July 15th to join us for the next academic year.

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