Talking Heads Blog #41: Sue Plant

Leadership Biography

Name: Sue Plant

Phase: Secondary

Sector: State

Region: West Midlands

Years Served in Education: 23 Years

Years Served as a Headteacher:

9 months current role (previously an interim Principal and also Associate Trust Principal

Leadership Journey:

I have done what feels like every role in a secondary school; Head of Dept, Pastoral role,  Teaching and Learning, Head of P16, Deputy Head, Director of Teaching School and latterly working across a MAT.  It’s been a varied and interesting leadership journey!

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

  • Liz Coffey (now Executive Headteacher, States of Guernsey)
  • Dame Susan Jowett (Former CEO, Spencer Academies Trust)
  • Graham Powell (Leadership Coach)

Twitter Handle: @plant4sue

Leadership Reflections

Why do you think our school system needs to change?

Our school system needs to change because our children deserve it.  Young people deserve to have a broad and rich education; which is easy to say and not so easy to achieve.  A rich education in my view means enabling each and every student to be successful; to not only have the strongest outcomes they can, measured in the widest possible sense but it also means giving them options as well as opportunity, aspiration as well as achievement and personal growth including a sense happiness and wellbeing.

Why do you think we need to develop a coaching culture in our schools? 

A coaching culture in schools is a large part of this.  Coaching cultures develop better relationships; ones based on trust and respect. They develop people’s ability to ask more effective questions and listen to understand.  I have used coaching with both staff and students to great effect.  For teachers and adults working in schools, having a coach means that people are prepared to take risks knowing that they will be supported to learn from the process.  For students, they develop resilience and independence of thought which is a critical component of their learning across the timetable as well as in life.

How has coaching helped you in your career?

Coaching has helped me throughout my career.  I have been fortunate enough to work with a range of talented coaches who have enabled me to not only develop my own leadership capacities but also my coaching ability.  I have been coached by people from within and outside the education profession and found the experience immensely useful in both cases.  I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with a range of coaches in different circumstances and every time I have learned from the process.  Coaching always helps me to look at a situation differently, from another angle and this is a very powerful leadership tool.  As a result of my own coaching experience I believe that quality coaching is an entitlement for everyone.

How do you champion flexibility in your school?

Being a champion for flexibility is really important to me.  When I had my children (at one point I had 2 children under 5 years, was a senior leader and a lone parent) it wasn’t easy to be a leader and a parent.  I firmly believe that teachers shouldn’t sacrifice being a mum or dad in order to be in the profession.  Schools can and should timetable differently so that this isn’t used as the ”business case” for refusing a part time role.  Those with an older relative to care for or a passion they want to pursue should not be pushed out of teaching because it isn’t compatible with the classroom.  When I advertised roles at my school, each one welcomed flexibility.  At interview, people were asked what their ideal pattern of work would be.  I think this was a key factor in the success of recruitment at my school.  400 people attended the recruitment event and 160+ applications received for 11 teaching jobs.  I have a DT teacher who has his own design business, a Science teacher who enjoys one to one tuition and examination marking and a parent with 2 young children who wants time at home.  Each and every one has a significant contribution to make to the team.   As my school grows, I will continue to champion flexible roles in school and welcome the opportunity to work towards a more flexible education system as a whole.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career/role?

In my career I have had to overcome barriers largely around being a working mum.  For much of my time as a senior leader I was a divorced parent, with complex child care arrangements and family living a long distance away.  This meant I was the only one who left the SLT meeting before it was finished in order to collect the children, I was often the last one running into staff briefing in the morning.  I was also the one who had to take time off when a little person was ill (thankfully my children are rarely poorly). This often left me feeling inadequate as a leader, a poor role model for my team and that I had to over compensate by working even harder- a real case of imposter syndrome.  The reality was, my situation did not affect my ability to lead and has actually made me the leader I am today – hopefully one who is understanding of the life my team has beyond the school gate.

What have you learnt this year?

I have learnt more this year than I can possibly say.  Opening a brand new school is such a unique experience that you cannot prepare fully for every eventuality.  Instead, I have relied on my ability to work well with people, whatever their role/background/function, my need to think things through in my own time, which can be a challenge when there are what feels like a million decisions that require an answer at any point in time. Finally, I have learnt to rely on those people around me; to support me, to challenge me and to enable me to do the job I do.  To ask for help is not a sign of weakness. Some of those people are in my professional sphere but most are in my personal world – my family and friends are all important pieces of the complex jigsaw that is being a mother, wife, Headteacher, leader, sister and friend. And it is a jigsaw, without any one of those piece, I wouldn’t be the person I am.

Leadership Advice

One of the earliest pieces of advice I was given was to stop worrying about the title I had and concentrate on doing the job I want to do. This has been a great piece of advice at all levels of leadership.  It isn’t about the title but how you conduct yourself and how effectively you do the job.

Leadership Inspiration

I am currently reading Spike by Rene Carayol.  I am a naturally optimistic person and this book is helping me to channel that even further.

“The vital and essential ingredient of the Spike philosophy is that absolutely everyone has at least one inherent Spike, one characteristic talent, that if identified and released, can enable lives to be genuinely fulfilling by energising and mobilising them for your own and everyone else’s benefit”.

This applies to students, staff and everyone we come into contact with and as an educator – identifying and releasing SPIKES should be our driving force.

Leadership Mantra

Another quote to exemplify leadership approach:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves” Lao Tzu. 

It’s more of a mantra that I keep in my head and share with others from time to time.  I see it as my job as a leader to enable others to shine in whatever role they have, to thrive as an individual within the organisation and achieve beyond what they thought they were capable of.  I never been someone who feels the need to take credit for achievements, I would rather the team felt proud and that each and every member of that team feels glad to there.


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