Dr Denry Machin
Oct 31, 2018 · 4 min read
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“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”Maurice Switzer

In this second ‘Wisdom of Heads’ piece, the focus is effectiveness. Respondents were asked to complete the sentence:

‘School leaders are effective if…’.

Their responses reflect signs of personal effectiveness. School effectiveness should (hopefully) follow, but I wanted to know what makes leaders themselves effective.

While not designed as such, the responses provide a loose ‘checklist’ against which you could compare your own leadership. Or, maybe, the comments will inspire habits that you may wish to adopt yourself.

You are effective if:

“You spend time with students at least weekly.”

“You know at least some of the student’s names.”

“You visit classrooms at least weekly.”

“You attend assemblies, even if you don’t take them.”

“You (occasionally) eat lunch with teachers (and students).”

“You know the names of janitors, chefs and gardeners etc. (in other words, you are connected to the support staff).”

“You respect how busy teachers are, but don’t tell them how busy you are (for the most part, they don’t care…that’s why you get paid more).”

“You tell teachers to take a break. Example: I once told the teachers that the school would be closed, i.e. they wouldn’t be let into the buildings, for four days of a five-day half-term. We had just been through an inspection and everybody needed, and deserved, a rest.”

“You speak to parents at least weekly.”

“You never cancel a meeting — it suggests you have nothing important to say.”

“Your standard of dress sets an example to teachers and students.”

“You have attended a conference in the last two years and/or undertaken some professional development in the last year.”

“If a member of staff completes a Master’s degree, and absolutely if they complete a Doctorate, you take an active interest — ideally, you would read as much of their work as time allows. If we don’t value teachers who learn, then what message does that send about the value of learning in general?”

“Teachers include you in conversations, both professional and personal.”

“You muck in/get your hands dirty/spend time in the trenches.”

“You respect a teacher’s choice to move on [to a new school]; you value and celebrate the contribution your school has made to their professional growth.”

“You are visible. [see also: Routines & Rituals]”

“You don’t shy away from difficult or controversial decisions.”

“You conduct at least some appraisals, and not just those of senior staff and are regularly appraised by a diverse body of staff yourself (i.e. a 360 appraisal).”

“When you look at your senior management team, they are not all mirror images of you [i.e. you have recruited for diversity].”


“You have a life outside of education”

“You are not distracted by (too many) outside commitments (chairing association body committees etc).”

“You know Groupthink when you see/hear it, and you seek to avoid it.”

“You sometimes green-light projects you may not agree with (i.e. you know you are not always right).”

“You own up to your mistakes, and you own the consequences.”

“You are professional, but you know when to drop the act. You don’t try to spin everything, and you acknowledge BS, even when it’s your own.”

“You talk about the school with (non-school related) friends. But you also know when to shut up!”


An obvious challenge would be to ask you to take one of the comments and act on it. In other words, do something which makes you more effective.

That would be too easy though. Too obvious.

There is plenty of time for action. But, at this early stage of the course, I want you to reflect — a much more challenging task.

What makes you effective in your current position? What tweaks, hacks, routines or systems would you share with a new teacher or a colleague you wanted to help?

If I had asked you the question ‘what makes you effective?’, what would have been your response?

Knowing yourself, and knowing your strengths, is an important part of the leadership journey. Sure, you will need to focus on your weaknesses. But, you also need to understand your strengths.

As a leader, you can delegate. You can employ people who are better at certain things than you are. You don’t need to do everything. Knowing where you make your most valuable contribution, and where you can’t, will make you more effective overall.

You shouldn’t avoid or ignore your weaknesses, but you should play to your strengths.

So, what are you effective at? As a leader, where could your skills make the biggest impact? Between now and the next module, ponder those questions.

The full ‘Wisdom of Heads’ book can be purchased here (Amazon US), here (Amazon UK) or here (iBooks).


on education, by educators, about all things educational

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