What happens on Executive Away Days?

What happens on Executive Away Days?

The BSN Strategic Leadership Team (SLG) were in Noordwijk at the end of last week to discuss the focus and execution of the emerging whole-school development plan and I promised to share what we did and how we did it.

The first thing we did was change the name from “Away Day” to “Seminar;” immediately dispelling associations with charabancs, bottles of cider and high-teas by the sea (not in themselves a bad thing but not awfully purposeful).


PreWWI charabanc – perhaps with a leadership team on an Away Day? Picture ref

I remember wondering what went on during these events when I was a younger teacher. I was always a little envious, wishing I could be there to listen and contribute. An aura of mystique can be powerful but it can also be exclusive. Inevitably, accountability structures necessitate a hierarchy even in the most enlightened businesses and teams can get too big to function. However, that doesn’t mean that colleagues need to be kept in the dark, especially at a time of development, growth and change.

So what exactly went on?

First was the pre-reading:

1: Learn Different – New Yorker, March 7th, 2016 – big-data presented as personalisation (frightening)

2: The Rocket Ship Charter School in the US – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kiw_RZB5nM – check out the little girl swinging her legs in a computer booth (heart drops)

3: https://cdlt.isa.nl/ – competition for the ILA?

4: http://www.bazaarofideas.com/#about – flexible learning spaces

5: http://www.techinsider.io/most-beautiful-schools-in-the-world-2016-1 – let’s design an inspiring learning space

And these were our objectives for the day:

  1. Putting the “one school” vision into action
  2. Identifying & grouping priorities – the language of purpose & our design principles
  3. Owning and articulating The School Development Plan (SDP)

I gave a “keynote” on Thursday evening. Importantly, it reminded the team of the progress we’ve made since September and, crucially, how the direction of travel linked to ideas the team had been discussing since before I was appointed.

These were presented as a draft SDP:

The SLG had seen the roundel before the day – no surprises. Conceptually it’s a step away from the norm but it contains priorities everyone expected.

We started at 08:30 the following morning with feedback from a conference and school visits taken in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. As I announced here the BSN is growing and needs to build capacity. The rapid rate of growth in educational providers in SE Asia and the success of their outcomes were worthy of study. It was an inspiring presentation and I took from it that new schools in SE Asia have a clearly articulated sense of purpose and are bold in the expression of this. The BSN is also in a strong position to make confident statements about its aspirations for children and young people – and will do so.

One key aspect of any future school will be the principle of “joining things up” at the BSN and for the children’s sense of engagement with what follows school – the learning continuum. It was useful to have Professor Lidewey van der Sluis with us to share her perspectives on similar initiatives that she has been involved with. The potential for schools to act as magnets for communities, talent and innovation is an educational principle we are keen to develop at the BSN.

Our Learning Technology Managers gave a briefing on the debate surrounding 21st Century pedagogy and the impact visible across our campuses. As our most established “Whole School” team, outside of the Board of Management, their voice and energy has been crucial in moving us forward this year.


The BSN Learning Technology Managers – with Gideon Williams evangelising

And this led us into our visualisation exercise. What would go into the new school? Who would it be for? What would happen in it? What would the design principles be?


Groups used the design principles captured from colleagues by the pulse-meester during the BSN conference earlier in the month.

It was interesting to put colleagues into peer working groups (heads, premises and infrastructure, deputies, HR and comms) as what emerged showed congruence of ideas relevant for the BSN through different lenses. I need to present these to Governors before going into any further detail but the thinking is ground-breaking and exciting for children, staff, parents and the wider community. I’m excited about sharing these ideas more widely and getting further suggestions from the BSN community and beyond.


This group was particularly imaginative.

There was still time to action plan for the new International Leadership Academy priorities before lunch and then address objectives for the new SDP through tiered BlueSky objectives just after. Everyone at the BSN will have a role in bringing the vision into action.

The Governors will be presented with these plans on May 10th and I hope to be able to share more details after their scrutiny and input.

It was a long day and hard work. The SLG responded with energy and commitment. We were imaginative together,  shared openly and freely.

And I hope that, reading this, our people (and those who may wish to join us) will want to be part of the BSN’s exciting future. Either in their current role or as a future member of SLG. The current team already has four new members from last year’s meeting – change in personnel is inevitable.

The BSN isn’t owned by individuals. It has to be more sustainable than that.


The Strategic Leadership Group 15.16