Leadership Horizons, the power of being outdoors

Leadership Horizons, the power of being outdoors

Posted on July 20, 2021

What do you get when you add a group of open-minded coaches, expert facilitators, the lake district and about 6 hours of time?

The answer is the feeling of being part of a something special, a lifting of soul and clarity of direction!

But first a bit of background:

I may have started my coaching journey many years ago, but in 2017 I met the truly outstanding Dr Paul Simmons as a new head in Oldham. The LA had teamed up with him (www.independentcoaching.org) to produce a program of support for new heads, and I embraced the coaching part of this wholeheartedly, finally a coaching method secure in theory, ethics and with a strong structure to work within. I then moved to the part two, whilst also sending my leadership team on part one, used the structure in my performance management meetings with staff and our senior leadership team meetings and progressed to part three.

When I left my headship in 2020, I was in contact with Paul as I considered the next stage of my journey. With sound advice and his support I ensured I completed part three, joined the executive coaching, added accredited supervision to my portfolio (my absolute passion for wellbeing) and embarked on my current chapter as Purplemoon.

Leadership Horizons Pilot

Paul, and his wife Marian, had been considering a day of coaching for coaches embedded in nature for a while. Nature and being outside as positive wellbeing factors have been a big identified as a feature of the pandemic Lockdowns and so when he approached me to ask if I would be interested in participating in a pilot day about coaching ‘in-situ’ in the lake district I jumped at the chance. As did nine others!

We gathered (socially distanced!) between 9-9:30 in a lovely room that was part of the University of Cumbria. We discussed what had brought us there, the theory and practice behind leadership coaching, and thought about

we then set off into the countryside, four of us opting for a shorter walk and then a sit in pleasant surrounds, and six opting for a longer walk and talk. (yes, I was in the walk and sit group!) we paired up, we coached, we came together for a packed lunch and chat, we changed locations and coached again in our pairs. We then met up as a whole group again to reflect on the day-our individual thoughts and learning, and our thoughts and learning as a group. We then drifted back home around 3pm, after all agreeing that it had been a remarkable day.

Remarkable Day Reflections

Whenever I have attended coaching sessions facilitated by Paul I have felt invigorated, have got clarity of next steps and also learnt more about being a coach. This day was no exception, however this day held something more, something deeper and we all felt it.

One phrase that has stayed with me is the difference between ‘feeling knowledge’ and the ‘knowing knowledge’, I know that being in nature is powerful and positive, but after this day I also truly felt it enhance and deepen the coaching experience. There was synergy between the heart and the head in a different way at the end of the sessions. What brought this about?

  1. Being outside brought different energy, it was more tranquil, less hasty or pressured- I also enjoyed not having to be in constant eye contact as I sat next to my coach rather than opposite across a desk/table. I fiddled with grass and flowers around me (as did she) and did not feel self-conscious about fiddling. Pauses were natural and mindful and invited further thoughts and discussion.
  2. I love working in metaphor and using the vista around me to describe my reality and my ideal, and work out how to get to that horizon, really helped both me and my coaching partner to depersonalise the issue/thoughts, describe them with rich language and give greater weight to our thinking. Whilst also being an aide memoir for the coach so more cognitive space could be given to support rather than remembering or note taking.
  3. Overall it felt very embryonic but also retained the structures and methods we all were so familiar with. Nothing was forced and for me there was less pressure as I felt unconstrained by time and the physical presence of work/workplace. I found the walking part as the nice bit of small talk, the shedding off of my ‘to-do’ list or my anxieties, frustrations or woes as I enjoyed the physicality of walking uphill and the taking in of the sights and sounds. When we sat, we paused and truly let go as we established our anchor for coaching in the surroundings, and then we delved deeper into the near, middle and far horizons.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Am I looking into how I can incorporate this into my practise as a coach and supervision, oh yes!

Would it have been different if it had rained? Maybe, although we all gelt that some light drizzle wouldn’t have stopped us, a storm would have given us a different vista and energy, but there was always the safety of the building!

What is Listening?

What is Listening?

Posted on March 22, 2021

I’ve had a few different conversations recently about listening: What the point of listening is and how we do (or don’t!) Listen!
As a daughter, sister, partner, friend, teacher and leader I have said ‘you are not listening to me!’ or ‘are you listening to me? ‘many times. Often with growing frustration. I’ve had it said to me from my brother, parents, partner, friends, a child, staff line manager and member of staff. There have also been times when I simply haven’t spoken up as I was sure the audience wouldn’t listen to me.
What I have come to realise, through my experience and through pulling together different strands of training over the years, is that there are many different types of listening, and may different ways to respond to someone when you have listened to them. I’m also really interested when people talk about ‘the listening ear’ and ‘active listening’- again there are quite a few facets to both of these descriptors.
What I do know is that when I am participating in a discussion as a coach or as a supervisor I have an intensive focus on me listening effectively and draw on my experience of listening and being listened to.
So here are my thoughts;

Listening to respond

This is where you may end up in a disagreement or misunderstanding if the emotions behind it are powerful and beginning to overwhelm.

However, there is a place for this, as there are times when it is a question or query that is being said.

Listening to understandThis is a big part of coaching and supervision and effective leadership. Yes, you will still be responding, but it is about ensuring that you are truly hearing what is being said to you, through words and through non-verbal cues so that your response is measured, calm and worthwhile
Listening to empathise and/or sympathiseWe have all had those moments when someone just wants to vent, or share something, good or bad. Here what they want is acknowledgement and validation.
Listen to give advice/solutionsThis is mentoring or when you are seen as the expert. Someone wants or needs you to give them a solution, or want you to advise what you would do in their position. Be warned, be sure that this IS what they want, or you may end up with frustration!
Listen to ensure the person has understood you and what you have saidThis became increasingly important for me when launching initiatives or trying to shift culture. I had had a discussion, I thought what I said was clear and obvious, but then I would ask a key question, or ‘check for feedback’ and what they would say was something different, So do this listening at key points so that you are making sure they have really grasped the main points that you wanted them to, and they understand them.
Listening to see who has the biggest voice and who is not engaging or being drowned outI am often fascinated by team dynamics, and will often sit back, watch and listen to a group discussion. Who is leading, who is engaging what listening styles, who is being silent and disengaging, who looks animated and who looks confused? And is there a way to rebalance or check in?
Listening to see who has the same values, ethics and ideals as us and who doesn’t.We often seek allies and gravitate to those that seem similar to ourselves. Particularly in friendships, in employment and we desire it in family. Having that internal debate to decide shall I engage in this discussion in the pub, around coffee stand at the conference, in the staff room can sometimes lead us to decide no, and this is ok!

What I do know is that sometimes listening is an effort, particularly when stressed or tired or desperately trying to get something done to a deadline! I also know it is ok to say ‘I cant listen just now, but lets talk in the morning, in an hour or let me grab a coffee first.’ All listening types require dialogue, and acknowledging that you can’t listen right now is better than half listening!

Is venting good for you?

Is venting good for you?

Posted on January 18, 2021


Venting, good for the soul? A nice way to release anger and frustration? The satisfaction in the moment; getting what is in your head out into the world and letting someone else have a share in your feelings sounds good doesn’t it? But is it actually good for your long term wellbeing or is this a negative selfcare tool?

There was a point in my career when I would have been very much on the side of venting as a good thing. The job would be weighing heavily on me and something would just be tipping me over the edge. I’ be on a call to my dad and after the general niceties he’d ask me an innocuous question; ‘how’s work this week?’ Or maybe a not so innocuous one; ‘did you see X in the newspaper?’ and away I’d go. He would listen, empathise, sympathise and quite often get angry and frustrated on my behalf. Sometimes he would make me more frustrated as I had to explain something to him as an segue as he isn’t ‘in the field of education’. I’d then run out of steam and talk to my mum about something totally innocuous (a bird in the garden or something the neighbour had done) and I would laugh and move on. And I would be feeling better(?)

Sometimes it would be a teacher friend I would be venting to (and it might become a joint vent on the same subject, both adding the fuel to a raging burn) and then we’d realise we were on the tram, or in the pub and maybe this wasn’t a ‘safe space’ to be having this vent. Or it would be a teacher friend at a different establishment where we would end up almost in competition over who had it worse. Urgh.

Later it also became my super other half (not in the education sector at all) and he would get it full barrels at times, and just look at me with sympathy then go and get us both a beer and try and help me make sense of what I had just said. I am not sure he signed up to that at all when we moved in together!

I then started being coached and coaching ‘properly’. I think I came to it ‘late’ and we had been doing a kind of ad hoc muddle of coaching over the years from reading about it and the odd seminar. But, for me, finally attending some meaningful training (Thank you Paul Simmons at Independent Coaching and Oldham LA who provided this free to new heads) really made me realise how dangerous venting is:

  1. Was I venting in a safe space?
  2. was the person on the receiving end able to deal with the venting in a good way and were they emotionally equipped to deal with it?
  3. (Crucially) was it actually making me feel better longer term?

At this point I also went back to a very good friend who is an outstanding play therapist. She worked in my school leading filial play therapy and, (as she now lives in Australia) I sent her a message along the lines of ‘Remember when you were muttering about me needing Supervision and you were trying to get me to sit down and talk and I didn’t really get it? Well I do now!’ But still, supervision isn’t on the general radar of education folk. Coaching definitely is, and coaching will definitely reduce the need for the venting. So, why is supervision better (and safer) than venting?

  1. There is a safe space created where there is just you and the supervisor.
  2. The supervisor has no emotional attachment to the situation (especially when they are external to your organisation) or, if they are a line manager who has received supervision training, they know how to deal with their own emotional attachment to it.
  3. The supervisor will be equipped and ready to deal with, and address the need of, the supervisee. It is a planned and structured event.
  4. If the supervisor believes that medical intervention or specialist therapy is needed then they will advise the supervisee to seek this out (and if necessary stop the session so that this can occur).
  5. The issue/case/situation that is being discussed will be examined, addressed, thought about and some steps to move it on will be decided by the supervisee.
  6. If the supervisee is bringing the same issue/case/situation to sessions, then the underlying issue regarding this will be addressed.
  7. Supervision will have a long-term positive effect on your wellbeing and job satisfaction

Is venting good for your soul? When it comes to work I would argue no, not in the long term, and it can be dangerous in the short term depending what space it is done in and who with. Supervision and coaching are far better tools to have (and, I believe, they should be part and parcel of your wellbeing offer at work). However, don’t get me started on the current preferred playing style (that means they win) of the England rugby team…

How I got to here

How I got to here

Posted on January 2, 2021

I knew I would be working in education, probably as a teacher, from the age of 3 after starting nursery. (My dad oft tells of his visit to pick me up as a surprise and the teacher asked him not to go in yet as I was ‘reading’ to a group of friends on the carpet with the staff quietly tidying up around me!)

This ambition stayed with me all the way through my primary and secondary school life, and whilst completing my A Levels I was often found as a volunteer in the EYFS/Y1 classes of the local primary school. However, I did not want to complete a BEd and go straight from school to university to school (as a teacher). Instead I opted for a four year BA(Hons) in American Studies, completing my third year in a university in upstate New York. (what an amazing experience that I still cherish).  Then on competition of this degree I took a year ‘off’ from education, instead working in a range of settings to ensure that teaching really was where I wanted to be (it was!). I then completed my PGCE at the University of Hertfordshire, with a specialism in EYFS so that my qualification covers 3 year olds to 11 year olds.

I was now a teacher, and loving it! I spent three years in a two form entry primary school with a nursery in Bishops Stortford and then decided to leave ‘the south’ and go to wonderful Yorkshire, landing in Sheffield. After a term of supply teaching I started a very fruitful and enjoyable stint in a two form entry primary with nursery on the outskirts of the city. Here I discovered that although I love being in the classroom, I wanted to do more for the children and my colleagues. I became the safeguarding Lead (then called the Child Protection Lead Teacher) and a year later became the SENDCo. I loved the collaboration, the learning, the achievements and the sheer unexpectedness of what these dual roles brought into my life. However, I did not enjoy the stress, the frustrations, the anxiety of the wait for support for children, or sharing the strain of the struggles of the families and the sheer weight of paperwork.

I then took all of this experience and in 2011 became a deputy head for a school in a deprived area of Barnsley. This was a ‘non-teaching’ role and I remained the lead for safeguarding, SEND and disadvantaged children. I thought that I would find fully stepping out of the classroom hard, but instead I discovered that supporting families and developing and supporting the teachers and support staff within the school incredibly rewarding. I continued to collaborate in new ways, with play therapists, other leaders, other agencies and also had the opportunity to sit on the safeguarding board that was formed in Barnsley after a disappointing LA Ofsted inspection.

In 2014 I relocated to West Yorkshire, and became the non-teaching Deputy Head of a school in Oldham. Again, I was the lead for safeguarding, SEND, disadvantaged children and I also line-managed the support staff, creating a performance management cycle for them that mirrored the teachers and enabled them to share their strengths and to support the development of their areas of need.

I became actively involved in the SEND hub, the local collab of leaders, and the Behaviour and Attendance Hub within the local authority. In these Hubs and collabs I was involved in creating model policies, guidance and toolkits for staff in primary schools. I worked with colleagues from other schools and agencies and regularly discussed the need for coaching and supervision within educational settings to support the wellbeing of staff, to increase retention and ensure that staff were being fully supported to be the best they could be in the classroom.

In 2017 I became the head of the school. I set about revitalising the curriculum, embedding coaching through my performance management methods and trying to ensure that the school was a happy and healthy place for the children, staff and community.

This year I made the decision to leave my role as headteacher and I want to continue my journey to change the culture within education to ensure that all staff have a safe and healthy place to work, that they are valued, celebrated and supported and that the process of supervision, which is common in health and social care, becomes a cornerstone of practice for education settings.  Coaching and supervision has a direct positive impact on wellbeing, retention, absence management and classroom practice and I truly love delivering it!