Leadership – all at sea.

I am interested in the concept of leadership and always have been, what makes a good leader, how can I be a better leader?  Interestingly, so is my kayak coach and over the years we have had a great many conversations about leaders and leading which has helped to shape some of my views on the topic.
I love sea kayaking and each Sunday morning, whatever the weather or season sees me on the water.   Going out to sea can be fraught with danger, the sea is a harsh teacher and if you are not well planned, well prepared and well led she will teach you a lesson that you are unlikely to forget for quite some time.  Thus, as sea kayakers we are trained to prepare ourselves for each trip that we make.
A pre – trip checklist looks somewhat like this..
It is essential that you tell someone, be it the coastguard or a friend or relative where you are going to and how long you expect it to take you.
You should share your aims of the day with others in your group, in this way, everyone in the group knows what the plan is and what to expect from the trip.
As the group leader, it is your responsibility to understand the paddling standard of each of the kayakers in your group, some you may know well, but others you will have to talk to before you set off and moreover, you will have to observe them on the water to make sure that what they have said about themselves actually is the case.
You should always have a plan B and be prepared to change your plan if required.
And last but by no means least, you should be well equipped and have a good understanding of the sea and weather conditions on that day.
Once on the water, it is essential that you keep your group of paddlers together. You must be able to communicate easily with each and everyone of them.  Shouting instructions at sea does not work as your voice is often lost over the sound of the wind and waves.  As a leader, the wellbeing of each paddler is your responsibility, regular 1:1 chats with your fellow kayakers will ensure that everyone has a safe, happy and fun trip.  
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As in sea kayaking so in teaching…
I have been teaching for 15 years and have worked in 4 schools during that time.   I have met a great many leaders both middle and senior management some of whom would learn a significant amount  from a trip on the sea.
1. Tell someone where you are going
Each team leader in a school will have a line manager and it is this person with whom the leader should share the teams’  journey.  Where as a team do you want to go? How long will it take you to get there?  The goal could be to improve GCSE take up in your subject or improve the the NC levels that your KS3 students gain.  In fact, anything but above all, there should be a goal and an idea of how long it will take to achieve it.
2. Share your aims
Now that a goal and a time frame exists, share it with the team members and break down the goal into manageable parts.   As with a kayak trip, if your team members don’t know where they are going they literally roam all over the place and then become very hard to control and the goal suddenly becomes lost.
3. Understand the ability of every member of your team.
I mean this in the most non threatening way.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses and a leader should be aware of those of the team.  Regular meetings as a group and with individuals will allow a good leader to understand each member of the team more fully.  Obviously, as teachers we should also observe each other, it need not be formal, it should be a supportive experience that builds on strengths. What is more, it shouldn’t just be the leader that does the observing, everyone has a role to play.
4. Have a plan B
This is real life and not everything goes to plan.  A good leader always has a plan B,C and D  and isn’t afraid to use them.
5. Be well equipped
Leaders should be up to date with educational thinking, should be experts in their subject should be organized, and approachable. In short, someone that the team looks up to.
6. Communication
This, in my humble opinion, is at the heart of good leadership.  Communicating easily with team members is vital, forcing an opinion or a method of teaching on someone will only result in it being “lost on the wind” Team members should feel happy and comfortable at work and leaders are ,in no small part, responsible for this.  This does not mean that a leader does everything, they also must ensure that the team develops.   Most of us enjoy a challenge and staying still in education is simply not possible nor should it be encouraged.
I am no expert in leadership but I have seen and worked with some poor leaders in my time as a teacher and it frustrates me immensely.  I know many people devote their lives to the study of leadership and it is a vastly more complex matter than my simplistic review above.  However, I truly believe that leadership values are a transferable skill so, that which is pertinent at sea is also relevant to education, it’s not rocket science but to be a good leader does require a great deal of thought and empathy.
I am not currently in a school leadership role but prior to having our children I was and I very much look forward to the time when I will lead a team again. In the meantime, should any of you reading this post wish to come out on a sea kayaking trip with me I’d be happy to take the lead 🙂
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