Building your SLT team is like trying to build an aircraft while it’s in the air – Liam Powell
Liam Powell is the Head Teacher at Manor High school in Oadby, Leicestershire. He has been teaching for over 24 years, initially qualifying in 1993 as a History and Politics teacher. Liam has been a Head for over 7 years and taken Manor High school through significant changes, in particular, becoming an Academy and part of Oak Multi Academy Trust.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out Liam’s “Hot Choc Friday” pics on LinkedIn, they truly are brilliant and show how as a Head you can have a huge impact on your students.
Listen to more of Liam’s fantastic experience and how he still believes being a Head Teacher is the best job in the world.
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for show notes, transcript and links…
- Liam’s route into Education [00:36]
- Advice to Student teachers entering the profession [01:36]
- Is Teaching still a vocation? [02:44]
- What makes a good senior leadership team in a school [03:53]
- Moving from SLT to being a Head [04:55]
- Advice on becoming a Headteacher [06:00]
- Recent Manor High School Initiatives [08:52]
- Manor Highs Partnerships [11:30]
- Hot Choc Friday [13:03]
- Where will Education move to in the next 5 years, being a MAT [14:34]
- Primary Secondary Transition improvements [16:15]
- Being process driven, not outcome driven [17:46]
- Students are our greatest resource [19:25]
- Recruitment needs for September [22:20]
- The importance of having “Core Values” [22:48]
Lee Stanley 0:55
Hello, and welcome to Hadfield Education’s webinar series of Good to Great where I interview the leading educators in the UK and today, I’m very fortunate to have Liam Powell. Liam is currently the head teacher at Manor High School in Leicestershire, and yeah, welcome, Liam. How’s school treating you today.
Yeah, very good. Thank you. nice, sunny day here in Leicester.
Lee Stanley 1:20
Excellent. And tell me Liam, and what, what actually took you into teaching and into education?
Well, I finished my degree. And I went off and did some postgraduate studies. And then I worked for British Telecom for a couple of years. And then I realized that was really missing the subjects that I’ve studied for all of those years, which were basically history and politics. And I had a real desire to get back into those subjects and share that passion and share all the knowledge and learning that I built up with young people.
Lee Stanley 1:52
Fantastic. So when did you start out
I started teaching in 1993, in the Leicester area, teaching history and politics through from 11 to 18 year olds that are headed over to Rugby to Ashbourne school in rugby, were there for about six years and 12 years, at Kingsthorpe in Northampton. And then I’ve this my seventh year here in Manor High, Leicester.
Lee Stanley 2:15
Brilliant, Brilliant. And in terms of new student teachers that are entering into the profession, obviously, there’s been a real change from when you first qualified, what kind of advice would you give to them?
I think the main thing is to enjoy the job above all else, remember why you’re doing it, and enjoy it and make it interesting, bring your own life experiences into your learning, plan your lessons well, plan lots of pace and try and concentrate on the good things about the job. The media, we sometimes hear negatives about it. But actually, it’s a fantastic job and the relationship you build up with young people. And I’ll just give an example about I’m I am now back in touch with someone that I taught 25 years ago. She’s the head of a law firm now, and those kind of connections, she comes in and talks to my students now. And that’s something I never would have imagined 25 years ago, when I was I was teaching her GCSE that, you know, 25 years later, I could be a meeting up again, and she’d be working with me support young people. So the relationships you build up in those early years or so important?
Lee Stanley 3:19
Absolutely, absolutely. And in terms of education, from my own personal experience, I always believe that my teachers or the teachers that taught me they saw teaching as their vocation, it was sort of a meaning to them. And do you still think that’s the case within education?
Yeah, I think there are lots of hoops that you have to jump through lots of things that you have to do to be effective. And to make the quality assurance and the inspection processes, you have to take lots of boxes. But unless you’re doing it as a vocation, with a sense of purpose, the job will be too hard. You have to have that passion, they have that sense of civic public duty. And I feel sorry for people, they don’t have that because it’s critical. And as a head teacher, you really rely on people coming into the profession and going the extra mile and a lot of the work that people do, in fact, it’s actually unpaid. It is staying behind after school to help someone who’s stuck, it’s going to watching the cross country of the weekend, or the sports teams, or it’s rehearsing with the kids in the orchestra after school. Those are the things that can’t really be included in the job description and the hours of the job. But there are things that make a difference. And that’s what the children really appreciate. They can tell the people who go the extra mile for them. So you have to have that vocation.
Lee Stanley 4:37
Absolutely. Absolutely. And talking about your team, what do you feel makes a good sort of senior leadership team within a school?
I think that’s a really good question. The jokes that’s often made about building a team is that you try and build an aircraft while it’s in the air. And that’s what you do, when you will go to school, or anywhere organisation, you inherit a team, and you have to look for people’s strengths. And you have to try and build on them. And then there are some people who, for whatever reason, don’t fit into that vision and the team that you’re trying to build. So it is quite it is quite difficult to do. And but it’s really important, I would say, relationship building and team building is absolutely critical. And what you’re looking for really isn’t necessarily think with the qualifications you’re looking for people who have that can do attitude, and that they really have share that vision with you. And they’ll take things on. And they’ll come to you with ideas and solutions, rather than just looking at each problem on its own, and being stuck on it. And having that attitude. Collectively, you all sort of feed off after a while. And that builds its own momentum.
Lee Stanley 5:42
And how did you find the progression from being in sort of a senior leadership position to then taking that the headship
it’s a massive jump, and I think it’s not for everyone. And there’s that thing about you are the jockey in the saddle. And ultimately, you have decide, the way I go about it is to share all decision making with my team, because I completely trust them. And there’s that whole thing that if I suddenly we’re out, we’re out of the picture, for whatever reason, they need to be able to carry on keeping the school going in the same way. So it’s about sharing ideas, but ultimately making the decision what I’ve tried to do very strongly is to avoid any sense of the blame culture. So things do go wrong, they go wrong, but ultimately, is the head teacher. Anything that’s wrong in the organization is your fault, one, remember, so there’s no point having a blame culture, you’ve just got to say, right, okay, what’s the issue? How do we deal with it? How do we move this forward? And I think if your team has got that, that philosophy, and you can really the sky’s the limit.
Lee Stanley 6:43
What advice would you give to any sort of butting heads? And there are lots of assistant and, and deputies who I speak to, and contemplating taking a headship, what what advice would you give them?
I would say to them, it is still despite the pressures, it is still the best job in the world, it is an amazing opportunity to lead a school in the way that you believe in. And so my advice to them would be, go for it, and don’t back out of the opportunities. If they present themselves, it’s the doors are open, go through them, and see, see where it leads, there’s nothing worse than if you you might find some regretting if you didn’t go for it. The other thing is, look at your strengths, and look at what you perceive to be your weaknesses. And actually, you might find that those weaknesses are actually strengths. So just give an example of that, I’m always quite impatient, I was like to get everything done really quickly, sometimes too much of a perfectionist and, and I thought those were things that were holding me back one time before it became head. But in the end, I realized that that sort of commitment and that determination, those things became really important. And as long as you can manage the impatience, you can turn it to your advantage. And, and that is that it gives you that sense of, I am going to get this done, whatever happens, nothing is going to get in my way. So. So what you might see as a weakness could actually turn out to be a strength. And I really would advise people to go for headship, it is a brilliant job.
Lee Stanley 8:07
Absolutely. And like you say, I think the, the impact that you have everybody from what I remember my head teachers from, from my education and the support, and they knew everybody’s, the thing that really impressed was, they knew everybody’s name and could relate to, you know, each individual, which was really, really important, really important,
Absolutely critical. And I run a school of 900, and we’ve taken the school through amazing changes. It started off 50 years ago, from 11 to 14 school. Then 30 years ago, it became a 10 to 14 school. And then two years ago, we became an 11 to 16 school. And, but what we’ve done is we’ve committed to keeping the school at the same size. So our school has 900 pupils we’ve gone from four year groups to five, but we’ve managed it in a way that we keep the overall size of the school the same, we really strongly believe in that now, I’m a non teaching head teacher, I sometimes do get support, you know, support with revisions, sessions, and things like that. But because I do the morning duty, the after school duty, the break duty, the lunch duty or walk the corridors I go into lessons, I actually know, almost sort of my students by name, and they know their families as well. And they wave when they go past in the morning. And the cars when they do the drop off and build up a relationship with the bus driver on the school bus. And all these things really matter. It means that you get to know people. And I think you then don’t get the problems around behaviour and attendance and all those things because people believe in what you’re doing. And they can see that you are actually walking the line yourself and that you believe in it. So people are much more likely to buy in them.
Lee Stanley 9:46
Absolutely. And what other initiatives are you implementing, like new initiatives to move school forward.
And we’ve tried to move away from the old kind of judgmental and model of looking at people’s teaching. So we have a very inclusive approach now, which is based on a dialogue. So you’ll observe someone teaching, and then you have a dialogue about it afterwards, a lot of set of criteria, and the person being observed has as much of a say into that as the person and doing the observing. Then we have lots of other things that go on around the school, which you’ve probably seen on LinkedIn, which is things like hot chocolate, Friday, the magic of manner initiatives, a big thing at the moment is we’re trying to work we have more boys than girls in our school, and we’re outside the national average for that proportions. And we’re really interested in the work around mental health at the moment. So we’ve got a huge driver, that guy just managed to hook up with a couple of people on LinkedIn. Luke Ambler is one of them. I’m very, very interested in in some of the stats around men’s mental health. I was really shocked recently when I found out that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, and that are ways road accidents, cancer, and lots of other things that take people’s life. So there’s some thing wrong, if that is a step that is real, there’s something wrong in our society. So we’re looking at boys early on now and saying, what can we do to give them the resilience, the strength, the positivity that they’re going to need, with all of the challenges that they’re going to face in their lives, we’re not losing sight of the girls as well. But mental health and well being is a big focus for us right now.
Brilliant, and, like you say, the mental health issue as really in the last 18 months, just just at the forefront of everybody’s minds within not only within education, but within the whole sort of social society and social structure and looking at, you know, the way in which people are sort of that, you know, you see the exterior, but you don’t necessarily know what’s happening behind closed doors, do you exploit
now, and boys aren’t encouraged to share as well, you know, and, and to share their feelings. And this obviously, we were really trying to get them to talk that’s, that’s where we started and not is the dad of teenage boys. I see it from both sides of the fence.
Lee Stanley 12:04
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I like to say being being a young young lad growing up at school, it wasn’t it wasn’t cool to share your feelings, you know, you had to have that that pretense of being sort of indestructible and nothing bothered you when it’s so it’s so so different now so different and and certainly a really, really good initiative and yeah kind and in terms of the school and you’ve done some work with spark spark Academy
Yeah, we do lots of work spark Academy a really good Mital Thanki who’s the CEO of sparkling she was Asian businesswoman of the year, a couple of years ago. And she actually uses our site in the evening. And we’ve done lots of collaborative work together. And she supports with our after school interventions and revision, and this sort of thing, I suppose what I’ve learned from that really is you can never do enough partnership work, these people just come along. And you know, she wanted to meet up initially. And from that we’ve now got this amazing system where lots of lots of children in this part of Leicester are undergoing tutoring every night in our school. And there’s a lot of behaviour with stuff we do a lot of behaviour work is based on relationship building, and the candidate of counterintuitive strategies that we have that worked really well. And we’ve got all over those from pivotal and Paul deck. So I also managed to beat through through LinkedIn as well. And, and that that partnership, if things really important also in the school, we’re now part of the multiacademy trust as well. So we’re working with four local primaries, and the learning across that 3 to 16 journey is incredible there. And then I chair a group called excellence group, which is nine secondary schools, all of whom have gone through age, age range change, and we work really closely together, and we beg, borrow and steal each other’s ideas, and just keep sharing initiative. So for example, we’re in the running to the exam seasons now and we’re sharing ideas of what can you do in that final furlong to just make a difference, to just boost people’s confidence. So all of that partnership work is so powerful, the hot choc Friday thing that I do on a Friday that really came from Paul Dix, and pivotal. And that’s been amazing. And the idea of the thinking behind that is that instead of spending 95% of your time as a head teacher with the 5% to get it wrong, you actually flip that around, and you try and make sure that you spend more time with the kids who just get it right. Every single day, they opened doors, they say hello, they’re friendly, they do the work, they’re nice to each other, they help each other out if they’ve got a problem or anything like that. And, and the other reason for it is, it means I end the week on a real positive. So as I try and fit as many students as I can each week. But you end up having this lovely experience where you go away on a Friday evening thinking, wow, I really do work in an amazing school full of confident young people. So there is there are lots of reasons for it ready?
Lee Stanley 14:53
Definitely. And it really is, it’s just really lovely to actually see students with a hot chocolate having well, an adult situation with their head, which again, can can sometimes be a little bit daunting for for students, because they don’t know I don’t think they necessarily see that see the head in that light. And in that circumstance,
they think they are in trouble. You know, come on Friday, they go, Oh, I forgot to go see the head and then you actually have a hot chocolate and they can bring their lunch up in it. And it turns out to be a nice experience.
Lee Stanley 15:29
Brilliant. Well, you talk about Multi Academy Trust and the way that you do that, where do you see the education sector moving forward in in, say, the next five years.
It’s interesting, because as 10 years ago, we were all fairly independent schools working under local authority and supervision, that’s all changed in a very, very short space of time, you know, below a decade, ready for all that’s happening. Now, we, we, we were one of the first schools in this locality to academies, then the next day became not not standing alone as an academy and becoming part of the Multi Academy Trust. So that’s the next thing I think what’s going to happen is that we’re going to have a patchwork across the whole country of increasing the large multi Academy trust. And almost what we’ll end up with is, is a replacement for the the old system of local authorities, and you’ll have networks of multi category trusts. Instead, I suspect that larger ones will start to absorb smaller ones, and there’ll be fewer and fewer of them across the country, which I guess from the DfE point of view, would be easier to manage, because it’s fewer sets of elbows around the table, and therefore easier to lead, I would imagine.
Lee Stanley 16:44
And in terms of in school, how do you so with the multi Academy trust that you work with at the moment? Is that did you say that was secondary and primary? Or is
it some its secondary and primary, so whether we are the secondary school in that trust, right. And then work with for primary one of which is on our site, and there are two a few miles away. And then in the other direction, there’s another primary and we really came together as ethos driven professional friends who thought, hang on, we’re all teaching the same children in the same community, working with the same families, let’s try and get rid of the disjointed nature of transitions. So children, you know, make these transfers, and it becomes a huge thing for the family. You know, which school am I going to get into, and meeting new people? I don’t know anyone. I wont have my friends with me. So what we’re trying to do is say, right, okay, let’s look at the whole journey then. So we’ve got a preschool setup for three year olds, and then the children leave us at 16, how can we join all the dots through that process. So for example, one thing we’ve got going at the moment is that all of our deputies from all of the schools are working together on a project around literacy and reading, writing, and orally skills and communication skills as well. And already it’s starting to make some ground and we’ve got so much secondary level that we can learn from the primaries, we’ve got to overcome that danger of treating children as if they’re brand new to education, when they come into to get seven aged 11 that actually they’ve had a very rich education before that, how can we build on that, so that it becomes seamless, so that’s really exciting thing to do? Yeah, another thing we’re working on at the moment is obviously Leicester is interesting city historically. And we’ve got the, the whole Richard III thing that happened a few years ago. And they, they found the bones and identify them and the lead archaeologist and he’s going to come and do some project work across our school, but the whole age range 3 all the way to 16, so we can do some really exciting things that as well, I think these are the opportunities within a multi Academy trust all too often you hear about, it’s about finances, it’s about the business side of it. It’s about economies of scale, it’s about centralising resources, which Yes, it is. And that frees up more money for the children in the classroom at the end of it. And, but for me, it’s about professionals working together. I also think that these things example was about outcomes, and you sit down to try and improve outcomes. But what you don’t realise if you’re actually working on process as well, there is something around having a coffee with colleagues with whom you’ve never worked before. And on a blank piece of paper saying, right, what is it we’re trying to achieve, I think the process often inadvertently outweighs the outcome. And if we don’t realize that you’ve got more out of the process than you realize
Lee Stanley 19:26
100% and I think, also to add to that, unfortunately, like you say, I think sometimes the outcome is, is the only thing people focus on miss miss the point and you talk about the integration between primary and secondary and, and by the sounds of the process that you’re putting into place, there be a lot smoother transition, I mean, I’ve got kids as well. And I was quite fortunate. And, and also, I was really intrigued that my youngest, she spent a certain amount of year five going to secondary school. And then quite a lot of time in year six in particular, that the final two terms, you know, at least once a week, going over, and, and seeing and integrating, which I think is is certainly something that that needs to happen so that it’s not like you say, a completely separate sort of scenario and schooling but collaborative collaborative between primary and secondary. There’s, there’s lots and lots of room there for improvement.
There is I mean, for example, we’ve got children and we’ve got staff and all the students and we sometimes forget that our greatest resource in a school is the children, we sometimes forget that so what we do, so let’s take the minibus and we go to one of the primarys, and we’ll do some work around STEM, you know, science, technology, and Maths, and engineering these kind of things. And what we sometimes forget, is that we have greater resources in a secondary school that can be shared with the primary so and they have a big focus on SAT’s, which is a big pressure that’s put on primaries, but what we can do in the secondary is we can come down and give them some enrichment that they might not otherwise be able to provide. So you can do some exciting science experiments where you have explosions, and you know, and lots of loud noises, and quizzes and bangs and, and all this kind of thing. And those kind of things are really excited for the children. Also, the languages work, you know, we’ve got language specialists who do take people through to GCSE, they can come down and do a day of Spanish with the children and you can do some artwork The other thing is computing with and I think sometimes children a better better place to deliver that then adults are, they have literally no fear around technology whatsoever. Whereas an adult is always worried if they press a button, they might do something wrong, the children just kind of straight in and they’ll have a go anything they’ve got no fear. The other side to all of this is when we get the children into our school, we have, we have a series of transition events, they have three whole days in the school. And they do lots of other things as well. We do a sport Stay with us. But something I haven’t mentioned yet is a vertical tutoring. So to make us small school even smaller for the children and make it more personal and more familiar, we have vertical tutoring. So every day for 20 minutes, either in an assembly or tutor period, you have children from your set, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 all working together. And the older ones who work with the younger ones, they’ll support them, they’ll guide them, they listened to the reading this sort of thing, the younger ones are getting an enormous amount of that out of that. And but the older ones are getting leadership opportunities as well. And they say that the best way to learn something is to try and teach it to someone else. That’s when you know that you’ve really mastered something. So we actually get children from lots and lots of primaries. And in fact, about 40 primaries, we get children and sometimes the child will be the only child coming from that particular primary. So without vertical tutoring, you’ve got the oldest students welcoming the younger ones, showing them around, taking them to the lessons telling them about the school systems, how to queue up for your lunch, all these kind of things where to go and get the right things you need, you know where to get your uniform for everything. So that child already feels before the summer holidays even come that they’re part of the Manor High family and when they come in September, they really hit the ground running. So I think using the children in your school is incredibly powerful. So I think our integration process in our school takes less than two weeks. Whereas in some schools, I think it takes about six weeks.
Lee Stanley 23:21
Brilliant. Brilliant. And obviously we’re coming up to September and recruitment will no doubt be high on the agenda of objectives. Have you got many, many sort of positions that you’re looking to fill for September?
Yeah, we’re looking for a second in command of English at the moment, which is a really exciting opportunity for someone and we’re looking for an English teacher as well. And obviously, we haven’t got to May the 31st Yes. So I may have people in my own school here, we’re looking for promotions at this moment, either in school or in other schools. So there will be some opportunities for people to come to work and school and experience a bit of the magic of Manor for themselves. And I, you know, we always manage to recruit really exciting people. When I came to the school The first thing I did in the school was to introduce core values. And I was left at at first people say, you know, why do you want core values, you know footsie 100 company, you know, your school, what do you think about, and again, that turned out to be really important around process. And we came up with excellence, inspiration, and care and respect, and that was after asking children, governors, parents, and everyone. And the inspiration part of that is trying to get inspirational teachers, because that’s what I want as a parent. And that’s what I want as a head teacher. Because if the children and inspired with fast paced lessons that are exciting, they’re never going to misbehave. And they are going to do the work and they are going to do the homework because they want to do it and they care about it. So inspiration came up was one of our core values. But when it comes to recruitment, and it forms part of our line of questioning in our interview process,
Lee Stanley 24:51
absolutely. And like you say that the students wholeheartedly make the school but yeah, the, the teachers that are there and, and working with those students is so, so important now to have the right team and, and it’s not necessarily just in regards to qualification and experience, it is whole, the whole individual, the personality and like you say, the the ambition, the traits, the teamwork collaborative, and, and it really it really does impact on on the year that you have moving forward. So Excellent. Excellent. Okay. And and what’s the easiest way for people to get in touch or connect with you,
I would really recommend I mean, obviously LinkedIn is quite good. That’s turning out to be a really good way of communicating certainly to professional level with people and through organizations. I’d also say our Facebook page is really powerful. We have people who can respond very quickly to questions if they ever appear on their. Twitter feed is really good as well. And that’s seven and also through the website and there’s an upcoming email address on there. So anytime people want to get in touch with us, we are really good at and getting back to people as quickly as possible. So I’d encourage people to do it that way.
Lee Stanley 26:10
Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, thank you ever so much for your time. And in having this conversation and like say, if if you would like to get in touch with Liam, I’ll post all of the connection and Twitter handle and Facebook feeds and links in the description below. So thank you ever so much Liam. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Pleasure. Thank you very much.