The SBL who attended ResearchED Brum 2018

I attended my first researchED event yesterday when ResearchED Brum 2018 took place at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School. It was the first time the movement/community, for that is how it styles itself, had come to Birmingham and it provided the perfect opportunity to put a toe in the water.

I wasn’t sure how welcoming the other delegates would be towards a school-business-leader promoted-to-deputy-headship, but I had nothing to worry about; the researchED crowd seemed pretty welcoming of anyone who thinks before opening their mouth and who reflects before responding; introvert heaven!

“For the first time in more years than I care to count, I was a novice at the feet of experts and I loved it.”

As my career path moves me further from day to day finance and increasingly into leadership of whole school outcomes, I was pleasantly surprised just how familiar some of the topics felt. Assiduous reading outside my specialist area, supported by copies of Schools Week and diligent immersion in Twitter on top of years of paying attention in SLT meetings and working hard to understand how to support my teaching colleagues prepared me well for this foray into the world of pedagogical research. Not only were the concepts familiar, but many of the speakers were too. Assessment design and inherent limitations, the importance of metacognition, dual coding and curriculum design came to life in front of me as Bennet, Sherrington, Myatt and Newmark expounded in bite-sized sessions.

I’d be lying if I said that I felt able to respond adequately to all the subject matter or to hold my own with leading thinkers. At points during the day, I felt that I had stayed up beyond bedtime and snuck behind the sofa whilst the adults were talking. However, leaving a conference more certain of what I don’t know; with a list of scribbled questions and things to investigate further, made a refreshing change from being an organiser or key note speaker.

Now I don’t know all there is to know about school business operations or non-for-profit governance in complex multi-site organisations, but they have been my stock-in-trade for the last 20 years. I chaired the working party which wrote the SBM professional standards and I still chair the ISBL Fellowship Assessment Panel.

However, mixing with 300+ teachers and pedagogical researchers and having my thinking challenged felt good. I was outside my comfort zone, without a peer support network of trusted friends and colleagues. For the first time in more years than I care to count, I was a novice at the feet of experts and I loved it.

I’ve written previously about the need to get school business leaders more involved in conversations about outcomes and the systems/philosophies which support them. I’m even more certain now that this is right. If headteachers must acquire an understanding of business and operational aspects of their schools to lead them effectively, so must school business leaders engage with pedagogical philosophy and research if they are to step up to lead at the next level.

I intend to continue on this learning journey and to see where being a school business leader, deputy headteacher and executive IEB chair takes me. I think I’m going to enjoy it.