I took my message about Inside Out leadership to the headteachers of Bridgend on a highly significant date. One hundred years previously Parliament passed the Representation of People Act. This was the legislation that gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote. Over the previous years, brave suffragettes had suffered brutality, imprisonment and torture because they were driven by a moral imperative to gain what should have been a fundamental right.
Emmeline Pankhurst was an inside out leader determined to transform the lives of women. As an inside out leader Mrs. Pankhurst was driven by two powerful forces. The first was an understanding of what life was really like for women in the early years of the twentieth century. Inequality was rife. Whilst almost two million women were employed in domestic service just 212 were qualified as doctors and even they witnessed discrimination from patients demanding to see a male practitioner. Secondly, Emmeline Pankhurst held a set of beliefs and values held deeply in her heart and soul about what a fairer society might look like.
History has produced other significant inside out leaders who have fought against inequality to improve the life chances of others. Abraham Lincoln often spoke about a steamboat trip he took in 1841. During the trip, he witnessed ‘ten or a dozen slaves shackled together with irons’. He would go on to describe how that sight had been ‘a constant torment to him’. The pain of that day provided him with a deep sense of empathy which he used alongside his personal conviction to pursue rigorously the abolition of slavery in America. Nelson Mandela had a compelling vision of how equality could be achieved through pursuing a policy of peace and reconciliation to South Africa. He achieved this through not just having an understanding of what life was like growing up in the black townships but also the fears of the more affluent white families. Both men were inside out leaders who changed history through their knowledge of the community they served and a powerful moral code of conduct that drove them forward in order to bring about transformational change.
The principle of inside out leadership can be transferred into schools. Through my travels I have encountered so many inside out headteachers who have risen up against wave after wave of centrally imposed government initiative. They see this as an outside-in management style model. In short, the government tells the school what should happen next and then the school manages its implementation. Successive governments have spoken of devolving powers and then overloaded schools with more and more directives. Along the way they have often labelled hard working schools with derogatory titles such as ‘coasting’ or ‘hard to shift’. These strategies are corrosive to the spirits of hard working educationalists. Fortunately, inside out mavericks are fighting back with force and transforming education for the better. The headteachers of Bridgend explored how this could be achieved.
The inside out school leader has the same qualities as Pankhurst, Lincoln and Mandela.
Firstly they have a deep understanding of what it is like growing up on the streets around their school. They know if children can build relationships or deal with conflicts or if they come from homes with books and where learning is valued. They are also aware of any of the implications relating to race, faith and any inequalities that exist within their community. Secondly, they have beliefs about the best teaching and learning and what the best classrooms look like. They then bring these two elements together in order to answer this question…
What do I want this school to be like in three years time?
From this point the leaders work strategically and rigorously to create learning communities where everybody thinks they can achieve, they have a duty to achieve and a duty to help others achieve.
Within the conference room, the headteachers of Bridgend clearly demonstrated the spirit of inside out leadership. They spoke passionately about child centred learning and the the role of creativity in the twenty first century. They discussed the need to develop the personal learning and thinking skills which will help equip the children for life. Then the conversation moved to how the best teachers bring a sense of fun and passion for learning. The leaders of the town’s primary schools also knew of Bridgend’s heritage and about the challenges of growing up within this changing community. The basis of inside out leadership was clearly present. However, there was another significant force pervading our discussions. There was a genuine sense that those present felt a cumulative responsibility for the children of Bridgend. Those present knew that if they could work within a spirit of genuine collaboration and as a partnership of equals they could improve the life chances of the children in their care.
Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln were great orators. They used the spoken word to convey their beliefs powerfully and that is a fantastic skill. In a data driven education world there is need for school leaders to invest their intellectual capital in young teachers by expressing their beliefs. Inside out leaders do this day by day and it is at the point where their spirit is around every corner of the school that genuine success is achieved.
I asked the Heads present to surf the internet and find their favourite Abraham Lincoln quotation, and they returned with, ‘the best way to predict your future is to create it’. That is precisely what Emmeline Pankhurst set out to do a century ago. The Abraham Lincoln quotation is a brilliant metaphor for Inside out leadership.