Talking Heads Blog #39: Michelle Forrest

Leadership Biography

Name: Michelle Forrest

Phase: Primary

Sector: VA

Region: Knowsley (North West)

Years Served in Education: 18

Years Served as a Headteacher: 2 ½

Leadership Journey:

11 years in Junior School from NQT.  Held roles as English Lead, Assessment for Learning,  SLT  4 ½ years as Deputy in large Primary school  2 ½ years as Head in small Primary school.


Dame Alison Peacock- achieved so much for children and for the teaching profession by keeping her core values at the centre of everything.

Twitter Handle: @mforrest128


Leadership Reflections

Why did you become a leader? Why did you become a Headteacher?

I loved teaching and never saw myself as ambitious or as having aspirations towards being a head teacher.  However, a desire for leadership was there somewhere as after my first year, I approached my Head teacher and said that I thought I needed more responsibility. When she asked me what I would like to do, I told her I’d like to be English lead. As I worked in a large primary with experienced and successful teachers, looking back, this was a bold ask!  However, after laughing at me, my head didn’t give me English to lead but she did give me responsibilities for ‘Parents’- possibly to see if I really did want some responsibility.  I was English lead the year after.

I knew that I wanted to share good practice and ideas with other so that all of our children could benefit and the best way to do this was to be a leader; to collaborate and learn from others but also to encourage new ideas and high expectations from the front. This desire led me to moving into a Deputy role where I had more responsibility for strategic school improvement in a school that needed to improve quickly.  I learned such a lot in the 4 ½ years I was there and realised that what I really wanted to do was to lead my own school, shaping the culture and ethos from the front and giving the best opportunities to the children and staff who were part of it.

Why do you engage with grassroots and social media?

I discovered Twitter around 6 years ago and then discovered ‘eduTwitter’ a couple of years later.  It opened up a world of opinions and resources about education that I hadn’t really found before in TES or Guardian pieces. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t and some I didn’t understand (still not completely clear about the ‘prog/ trad’ debate or why it riles people up so much!) Through Twitter, I came upon the ‘Learning First’ community, just as it was starting up.  The initial tweets from the Beyond levels team really excited me and attending Learning First events showed me that there were so many people who thought and felt like me about education and the importance of owning it as a profession.  Similarly, without Twitter, I wouldn’t have heard about the Chartered College of Teaching or WomenEd community.

I’m soon to attend my first ‘BrewEd’ event in Liverpool and will be bringing along my new deputy head, my old deputy head, who is about to take up her first headship, and her new deputy head!  I’m excited about how we can continue to engage with education issues and ideas on a local level, taking inspiration from people who are influencing education on a national and global level.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

Colleagues who feel valued will have a greater and more positive impact on the children they work with and so I try to create a culture in school that invests in the whole school community.  We’ve done this in a number of ways including looking at how we can reduce teacher workload by revising our marking policy.  The whole staff discussed what the real point of feedback was and who it was for and once we had a shared view, we set about shaping what that looked like for us and our children.

Involving everyone is a key feature of how we create a culture of wellbeing in school.  When we wanted to improve behaviour in school, everyone had a say and was a part of what became our ‘Creating a positive learning culture in St John Fisher’ vision.  This meant that everyone was invested in its success and so were invested in making it work helping to embed a consistent approach.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

Sometimes people are keen to lead and take on responsibility and they let you know either directly or by their practice. They are easy to spot and nurture and often just need coaching as they are given projects or tasks to help them grow into the leaders they have the potential to be.  I am always very excited by those people who don’t realise their own potential.  In those staff members, I aim to build their confidence up by investing in their professional development, encouraging reading, reflection upon practice and training.  Investing in staff members helps them to see their own worth and realise what they have to offer.

What have been the highs and lows of your role as Headteacher?

The highs have been seeing plans and ideas you have come together and work to effect the change you wanted to achieve.  Sometimes that may be on a whole school level such as a big project that has been successful, improved outcomes for children or a real change in whole staff practice.  It is often the smaller things that give you a real buzz though.  Seeing a child succeed because of a staff member’s intervention makes me feel so proud for both of them.  A Teaching Assistant who has had low self-confidence coming to show me the impact the intervention she has lead has had on a group of children or telling me how well her observations have been going for her next level of training.

The lows have been those times when I’ve become too caught up in day to day issues and lost sight of the bigger picture.  This is when minor things seem to pile up and it can seem as though everyone is out to get you! Stepping back and reflecting really helps put things into perspective and ‘get your mojo back’!

What is your leadership style?

I aim to be fair and consistent, keeping the best interests of the children and staff at the heart of everything we do in school.  I know that I am ambitious for the whole school community and aim to encourage everyone in it to achieve their potential. I would love to say that I am always calm and collected, taking things in my stride….but I can’t!  There are days when I achieve that- or appear so to others- but there are just as many days when I feel as though I am putting out fires and wonder who on earth thought I was capable of doing the job!

Leadership Advice

I read Steve Radcliffes ‘Leadership: Plain and Simple’ and so much of it really struck a chord with me.  One part that really stood out for me was:

‘Leadership is not about your competencies, skills and personality.  It’s first and foremost about being in touch with what you care about and then going for it.’

Unless you know why you are doing the job, what drives you, I think you become more of a manager or stay in ‘operation’ mode rather than act as a leader who makes things happen because of your passion and vision.

Leadership Inspiration

I have just finished ‘When the adults change everything changes’ by Paul Dix. It has made me reflect on my whole career and think about how I deal with behaviour and understand the child behind that behaviour.  It is so exciting to read about the results schools have had when the whole culture is shifted away from a focus on sanctions and exclusion and more towards respecting every child and their needs- but not compromising on expectations. I hope to build that culture and understanding in my own school but I’m aware that it will be hard to change some long standing beliefs and practice. I will definitely try though!

Leadership Mantra

What difference will this make? 

For me this applies to children, staff and the wider community.  Everything we do has to have a positive impact or it is a waste of time and energy. It really helps me to focus when thinking about making changes


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