By Veronica Lysaght, Founder of Leading with Humanity
I had the privilege to interview Professor Dame Alison Peacock as part of a series of stories about people who lead with humanity. What I found when talking to those who go out into the world and do good, is that their leadership is focused on people. These people have a number of traits in common: they work to enable others, they listen, they stay flexible and curious, they lead by example and they’re self-aware. Alison embodies all these aspects of leading with humanity and it was a delight to speak with her.
Professor Dame Alison Peacock’s story of leading is well known in the Chartered College of Teaching. In 2003 she was appointed head teacher of a school in special measures – within ten months the school was out of special measures and within two-and-a-half years was rated as outstanding. Alison says the turn-around came from deliberately creating a school with a philosophy of listening and not imposing limiting beliefs on children or staff. What may be less well known is how her father’s story played a part in her drive and energy to challenge the status quo.
Alison’s father was a child when he was evacuated during World War II. While safe in the countryside, he sat and passed his 11+ exams. But on returning, he did not take his grammar school place because his family could not afford the uniform. Instead, he attended a local comprehensive school and trained as a carpenter. It was only after he was married with small children that his determination to become a teacher won out. Alison’s mother supported her husband to return to school to gain his O levels, then to train to teach.
Breaking through barriers, whether because of economic circumstances, what you look or sound like, or other people’s expectations of you, involves, in Alison’s words, taking an approach that does not set limits on people: ‘We won’t predetermine what you’re able to do or what you’re able to achieve. We won’t judge before you’ve even tried something.’
Alison has brought to the Chartered College of Teaching, whose mission is to ‘celebrate, support and connect teachers to provide world-class education benefiting pupils and society’, the same leadership style of being open to new conversations and listening to others that worked so well for her when turning around a school. ‘The notion of collaboration, supporting each other, only being as strong as the weakest link, all these ways of working don’t probably fit the current political narrative, because the current political narrative is very much about doing the best you can for you, for number one.’ She adds that ‘a much more powerful way to achieve reform is to essentially appeal to everybody’s best instincts rather than allowing their worst instincts to come to the fore, so collectively you’re stronger.’ To promote collaboration internationally, The Education Exchange takes a global view of what might we do differently, what can we learn from others and how can we listen.
Alison doesn’t consider that she will ever be finished challenging the status quo and says, ‘I think the more that I do, the more I worry about the things I can’t do. I wish I could do more.’
Key questions for practitioners who want to develop their leadership skills to empower others include:
- How do you lead with humanity in the work you do as a teacher?
- What is your ‘super-power’ when it comes to leading? Perhaps it is truly listening without letting judgements crowd your ideas? Perhaps you consciously stay flexible and curious to everything you hear in a day?
Take a moment to think about how Alison’s example can inspire you to lead.