A visit from Steve Munby and a coaching conversation

111201 Steve Munby KJE

We were proud to host Steve Munby’s visit this week.

Steve Munby has been Chief Executive of the National College for seven years, the length of time that I have been in senior leadership. In fact, I’m something of an NCSL “Babe” having been through what used to be the three stages of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) in one of the earlier cohorts. This relationship with the college, strengthened through involvement in pilot leadership programmes and by coaching colleagues in two schools through Leadership Pathways, has given a unique perspective on one of the most important Action Research projects in the history of education: how do we encourage, train and recruit the best in the profession into headship? School leadership is right at the top of the determinants of quality education and the demographics suggest an exodus of experienced leaders is underway. The College’s responsibility is huge.

Significant changes are in the offing and I’ll write about these another time.

It’s always fascinating to meet people you’ve admired and who have shaped your thinking, even in the knowledge that this can be disconcerting. Strong impressions formed at a distance can be troublingly inaccurate. Margaret Atwood said famously, “Wanting to meet an author because you like his books is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté…” – a dark, cryptic reflection of the magic that can be lost when one meets those who have engaged our imagination.

So, to the visit. Keen to avoid tasteless lobbying, or the school leadership equivalent of a tiresome holiday slideshow, I opted for tea and a low-key chat. Only the calibre of biscuit served by my PA, Sarah Nicholson, betrayed the sense of occasion.

And, ignoring probable accusations of hagiography, I am pleased to report that Steve’s words and presence were resonant, as indeed they were at the National College Conference this year. His handwritten note at the bottom of our rejection feedback from a bid to become a teaching school were emblematic of the high EQ promulgated by the College. Notwithstanding the fact that Steve must have visited hundreds of heads and schools over the years, the most pertinent and polished questioning followed the opening pleasantries about our outstanding Ofsted report.

Tell me about your team? Describe what you and your team have done here? Where did you start? How did you do it?  What did you learn? How do you know where to go next? Is ongoing success dependent upon incumbent personalities?

I found myself talking. 80:20. We all love talking about our schools; we can’t help it. And the quality of the listening was immense.

At the end of the conversation and the subsequent tour, the iteration, as with all good coaching, had left hard impressions, cemented principles: structure is required before people are happy with the freedom to innovate; finding time for people will always be as important as the best ideas to improve learning; we have a moral responsibility to remain restless in our pursuit of better.

Biscuits untouched.