Talking Heads Blog #45: Clemmie Stewart

Leadership Biography

Name: Clemmie Stewart

Phase: EYFS, KS1 and KS2

Sector: Currently Independent within a MAT but have also worked in State Sector

Region: South West London and Hampshire

Years Served in Education: 11

Years Served as a Headteacher: This is my 4th year as Head

Leadership Journey: My first leadership role was Head of Year in a 3-form entry Junior School in Special Measures. I continued as Head of Year, and took on EAL, Behaviour and Inclusion and did this very happily for 4 years, where we saw the school go from Inadequate to Good with Outstanding features. I then moved into my current school as Director of Teaching and Learning, before being promoted to Head in my first year.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: Oooh! Tough one. I would have to say my inspiration is the Head Teacher I had at Bedales School. She was called Alison Willcocks and she was born to be an educator. I loved her and continually strive to emulate her child-centred, values-driven educational leadership. In terms of coaching, it has to be the lovely Andy Buck who makes you think, pushes you hard but helps you realise amazing results in your school.

Twitter Handle: @cstewartSHS

Blog: none yet but I am tempted to take the leap! Here is one for Pobble.

Leadership Reflections

Why do you lead?

I never set out to be a leader in education – do any of us? That said, I quickly realised that it is through effective leadership that you can shape what happens beyond the four walls of your own classroom. I am a passionate believer that education is the key to everything: our children’s happiness and wellbeing, future growth and the realisation of aspirations. Beyond that, education can solve so many issues in society and shape the future for a generation. If your leadership can have any impact on that, I cannot think of a better (or more daunting!) responsibility.

On a day to day basis, a leader has so much influence. You can develop the staff you are lucky enough to work with, shape the experience of your pupils and have an impact in the wider community. Leaders should never lose sight of the influence they have and start taking the small steps to achieve the successful outcomes we all desire.

Why do we need to be outward-facing as leaders?

As leaders, we have to be outward-facing. Schools can be small micro-climates where we soon lose sight of the bigger picture. Yet it is the bigger picture to which we are all seeking to contribute to. By being outward facing, we develop our own thinking, challenging our previously-held ideas. After thought, reflection and discussion these ideas can still be valid and hold firm. But do you really know that unless you have stress-tested them against the thoughts of others and against research?

I am also a big believer in networking. As a young-ish Head, first in post, I needed lots of support and guidance. I needed people to bounce ideas off and to reality check some of my suggestions! Since then I have sought to build a strong network of professionals whom I can talk to, engage with and support as we all immerse ourselves in our exciting and challenging jobs. The bigger and more diverse network, the better. I am really proud of my role as a Vice-Chair of Governors in one of our MAT’s Academies and this role enables me to keep abreast of what is happening in sectors different to the one I currently work in. I know that this has a direct impact on what happens in my school and how my staff and pupils grow and develop as well as enabling me to bring my current sector experience and expertise to the table of a MAT. Facing outward forces self-reflection and that can only be a positive. We have to be proactive when facing outwards. The benefits are immeasurable.

How do you celebrate the teaching profession?

What a great question! I celebrate this amazing teaching profession on a daily basis. I often get frustrated with how the teaching profession can be perceived in the media and seek to counterbalance this with a raft of positive tweets, both about our school and also about the profession in general. #bestjobintheworld gets used on an almost daily basis! There are so many positives in being a member of the teaching profession and I feel it is our responsibility to get those benefits out there so that the future teachers and leaders can see what a fulfilling, rewarding and fun job it really is. I strive to celebrate positive stories about teaching and learning on a frequent basis, and engage in conversation with other like-minded professionals to get the story moving in wider circles.

I think we have a role to challenge the persistent negativity that can exist by offering counter arguments. I don’t wear rose-tinted spectacles as such, but I do strive to maintain a sense of perspective as I am a firm believer that the positives far outweigh the negatives. I maintained that mindset when going through special measures and it worked then too!

I also try to persuade as many people as I can to get in to schools. Either through teacher training or through recruitment, but also through careers talks, being a member of a Governing Body or volunteering time. I think that the more people who go into schools, the more will see how much education has moved on and what an amazing jobs teachers do.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

As schools continue to face recruitment challenges, I think this is such a pertinent question. So much of what leaders need to do now is spot, nurture, coach and celebrate talent. This could be identifying an amazing TA who could train to be a fantastic teacher, or a teacher ready for their first leadership position.

Firstly you have to create a climate of trust where people feel that they can take risks, try new initiatives and take on responsibility, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and encouraged. An open door policy certainly helps with this. Then you should use coaching at all levels to continually develop staff in their own pre-determined direction. However it is also important to widen their horizons with regards to direction they could take, perhaps not previous explored.Finally, leaders cannot underestimate the recruitment process for talented staff within school. You have to be creative with roles and responsibilities if you want to keep someone within your school community. I have found that this tends to be a case of wanting to take more on, rather than just negotiating Ts and Cs. If there is an internal promotion, feedback is essential for all candidates. They have put an awful lot of work into the day and it is our responsibility to provide detailed, useful and supportive feedback in return. If the role isn’t quite right this time, it might be next time and you want them on your team! I love the mantra: appoint for attitude and train for skill. This is key to talent spotting and nurturing!

What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

I would like to think that the values which shape me the most are: honesty, integrity, positivity and being child-centred. Honesty and integrity are essential. They determine whether staff can trust you and your decisions, whether parents can trust you with their children and whether the children can trust you to make the best choices for them. They also make sure that you always behave in an open and transparent way. Positivity is everything! If you feel genuinely positive about your role, your school and your challenges, this radiates from you and shapes how others feel around you. Sometimes, you have to paste a smile on but it never takes long for the real one to take over. We really are blessed to do what we do and the reason for that is never far from our door. Finally, a child-centred approach is essential. I use our children as a moral compass. If I am not sure what to do, I always question what would be the best for the children and the answer arrives quickly after that. So long as they get the best from us, everything else will fall into place and hard actions and decisions seem a little easier to make.

Our job is not always easy, but if you can put your head on your pillow at night knowing that you have acted in the children’s best interests, with honesty and integrity, you can make peace with whatever has happened and know that you did the right thing.

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

My school community! I genuinely love each and every member of our community; what they say, what they do, how they act and the surprises they throw at me. Working in a Primary setting is magic. No day is the same and the pupils have the most uncanny knack of being hilarious, surprising, joyful and loving. Not every day is easy but I can honestly say that there is joy in every day and I have never regretted a day spent in the world of teaching and education.

Leadership Advice

Think about each section of the beach ball before making a decision!

Basically, imagine a school is a beach ball, with each stakeholder having their own coloured section. As a Head, you have to be the rubber bit where the air goes in. My natural decision making process would leap on to the learning outcomes each time, and a member of my SLT would always make me think about each section of the beachball first. What impact would this have on the budget? How would parents feel about it? Would the decision satisfy the needs of the MAT? Once we had explored each section, we would then make a decision. It has really made me slow down and think about ideas from all sides and aspects before making a well rounded and considered decision.

Leadership Inspiration

I am currently reading Start with Why – Simon Sinek and Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg. The former has been really useful in making me think about why we do what we do, and how we can share that vision with everybody concerned. If we cannot answer the initial why, should we carry on with this development, initiative or decision?

The latter has made me really think about how women (and men) can support one another, learn from one another and develop one another. It has made me think about how I encourage those around me, from what is said but also from my behaviour and attitude. It has also encouraged me to think about how we support staff who have children, and wider commitments outside of school. I think there is real benefit in reading books written by those who do not work in education, as well as accessing the plethora of amazing educational leadership books out there by the likes of Andy Buck and Mandy Coalter.

Leadership Mantra

If you believe it, you can achieve it.

A little cheesy perhaps but it was my previous school’s motto and it rang true during the journey of rapid improvement and has never let me down since. Confidence is everything.


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