During this challenging time, it is more important than ever to be part of a network; to have the space to talk to colleagues, hear what they are doing and share ideas.
Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. Discover our WE ‘Summer Curriculum’ for Trusts, Primaries and Secondaries.
This week Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared his reflections on building and sustaining a culture in line with whole education values during and beyond this crisis. He expanded on his recent article ‘a new broom’ – which is well worth a read!
Ways Woodland Academy Trust are developing their culture
1. Set clear, fair expectations of your teams around your values. Check if the culture they are experiencing is the one you want. As WE trust leaders discussed at our visit to Apple Park (link) the way people behave and interact every day is your organisation’s real culture – not the values statement on your website. Despite positive messages around workload, switching off, and work-life balance, trust leaders felt their teams weren’t always living that.
2. Share human stories from your team that illustrate the culture you want to create. “The best way to maintain culture is to continue to tell stories around that culture.” Maintaining a sense of connectivity is essential to strengthen and develop your trust and school culture – especially during a crisis like this. The trust was using an internal newsletter to share staff spotlights of their Covid experiences. This empowered colleagues to have a voice in the organisation’s shared Covd story, reinforcing the shared culture. Another is using social video calls. It provides a structure to replace the informal storytelling and conversation that staff have around the photocopier or watercooler.
3. Trust leaders were keen to distribute leadership across their trust and within schools. During the initial uncertainty and disruption, they had often reverted to a more centralised, command and control approach – communicating from the centre, making decisions in a relatively hierarchical way. In line with their WE values they wanted to move beyond this and empower leaders at all levels through the crisis to lead up as well as down.
Ideas from Trust leaders during the meeting
4. Focus explicitly on your culture when ‘normal life’ resumes with staff, students, children. Trusts are planning to frontload inset days when staff and students return to school, with the majority focused on relationships and culture after so long apart.
5. Revisit your vision and values and make sure they are relevant for our current experiences and context. Test them with parents and families. Take the opportunity to reshape them from the grassroots up based on the authentic experiences of the current crisis. Make the language accessible and relevant. Test how far the values reach – are they widely known by teachers? Parents? The wider community?
6. The perception of schools in communities and society more widely has shifted over this crisis. Schools have done lots of inspirational work in and supporting their communities, which has been noticed. Parents have seen that schools are reliable, are there to help and are providing practical support – with food, their children’s wellbeing, or just a sympathetic conversation. Trust Leaders are keen to nurture this improved relationship, within the context of the often negative media portrayal of schools, and are reflecting on how they can sustain their communications with parents.
7. The importance of school communications being subtle, sensitive and human. Trust leaders reflected that initially in trying to convey a huge amount of essential information, their communications had perhaps sometimes been too transactional or formal. They were now keen to ensure they told staff, parents and children what they needed to while also being kind, empathetic and human. Trust leaders discussed the importance of sense checking communications during this time, especially with ‘non-educators’, with one leader describing how they were doing this with their partner and also those they were connected to in other organisations.
8. Acknowledge communities will be changed by this extraordinary period of time. We won’t be returning to the same community we left. One leader shared that her community had previously had almost no unemployment; now about 20% of the community was unemployed. Others felt their community would be changed in more subtle ways by the local levels of grief and bereavement. In a more positive way, communities were now looking to schools in a way they hadn’t before as a trusted source of support.
9. Can you enhance your culture by linking more closely with your community during and beyond this crisis – to the benefit of all? One trust was going to get in touch with parents and community members who had been furloughed or made unemployed as a result of Covid-19, asking if they wanted to volunteer within the trust – using their skills, supporting the community and providing support to schools.
10. Can you co-create your plans for being ‘more open’ with your local community? This can help you design and adjust your plans around the needs and priorities of parents and stakeholders. What worries them most? What would they most value over the coming months? It is also a great way to get buy in, helping keep them onboard and maintain goodwill and support as we move into a potentially challenging next phase.
11. Trust leaders all felt that their relationships with their most vulnerable parents, families and communities had never been this positive. This crisis had been an opportunity to create meaningful connections with those they had previously struggled to reach.
Leaders were united in their desire to build on this going forward. They reflected the difference was partly that they had genuinely been asking each other ‘how are you?’, leading to unsolicited positive conversations. In many cases, these parents had previously only heard from the school when their children were in trouble.
12. Leaders were exploring how to formalise these current informal, one-to-one, supportive relationships their schools and teachers had with families they had previously struggled with. Could they make them parent reps? Or community champions? Or ‘sounding boards’? How can we empower them as ‘ambassadors’ of our trust’s values and culture?
Register your interest in the series to share your ideas with other trust leaders across the country and find out how they are tackling shared challenges.