Out of this World Crisis Leadership

By Jez Bennett

During my permitted “once a day” exercise/dog walk I’ve been enjoying listening to the BBC Word Service’s 13 Minutes to the Moon podcast, written by Kevin Fong.  The current (second) series describes the Apollo 13 mission, in which the astronauts and their mission control team battled to cope with the catastrophic aftermath of an explosion in a fuel cell which ended their hopes of a lunar landing and gave them a very slim chance of returning home safely.

Apollo is a timely focus in the current climate.  In Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of light, knowledge, music, poetry and healing.  Amongst other qualities, he is strongly associated with the health and education of children.

One head teacher I work closely with described the Covid-19 crisis as our “Apollo 13” moment, and this Easter weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.  There is a sense in which we are developing solutions as we go along, but might we also learn from Apollo to cope with the changes and challenges we are facing and so that we might improve the quality of the education we provide in the long term?

The process of change, whether externally or internally determined, often follows a similar pattern.  Psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross initially proposed it in 1969 as a series of steps she had observed in terminally ill patients.  Although its evidence-base is somewhat limited, it has become a favoured model in change-management theory, and appears in many different versions.

Kubler Ross

This process can be separated into 3 distinct sections.  It’s instructional to notice how the Apollo 13 team went through these phases too.

Stage 1 – “We’ve got a problem”

The first stage is typified by shock and denial.   When the explosion happened on Apollo 13, mission control’s initial response was one of denial.  They assumed they must have an instrumentation error.  As the severity of the situation became clear, denial led to disbelief.  Flight controller Sy Liebergot stated he couldn’t believe that a titanium oxygen tank had exploded:

“If things got real tense – if there was a bad problem, you could see us grabbing one handle.  If it was a real bad problem, you’d be grabbing both handles.  You know you get the cold feeling in the pit of your stomach, like, this is really bad, but you can’t get up and go home.  But this was not an option.”

Moving through this stage requires information with clear, direct communication.  People want answers to their concerns, but these need to be carefully managed.

On an Apollo mission, all communication with the spacecraft was through one dedicated colleague, known as CAPCOM.  This would be a trained astronaut who might envisage the situation the crew found themselves in.  This single channel ensured that communication was timely, clear and specific.  CAPCOM could also ensure that the messages were positive and proactive.  For example, rather than an the expletive-ridden, frank analysis provided by one flight controller, CAPCOM communicated:

“We’ve got lots and lots of people working on this.  We’ll get you some dope as soon as we have it and you’ll be the first ones to know.”

Stage 2 – “Is there anything we can trust?”

In the second stage, anger and frustration resulting from the situation are often prevalent.  The reality becomes clear, and may lead to resentment, depression and fear.

“What do you think we’ve got in the spacecraft that’s good?”

On Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz realised that he needed to stop analysing the problem and start identifying the thing he knew were working well.

Moving through this phase requires clear planning, support and encouragement.  This planning helps avoid chaotic response that might otherwise result at a time of low productivity.  It can also require time, particularly in a large organization as members of staff may move along the change curve at different rates.  Leaders need to anticipate the change and provide the mechanisms for others to move along it at appropriate rates.  As Kevin Fong writes:

“Keeping control of your team in the face of something so chaotic is tough.  Without proper discipline things will disintegrate.  This is the genius of Kranz’s leadership.  He finds a way to force his flight controllers to stop, reset their approach and start again from fresh.”

Stage 3 – “Start handing over”

Fong also describes how Kranz had the discipline to relinquish control to the incoming team at mission control, rather be tempted to make all the decisions himself despite the pressures and responsibility, recalling Kranz’s words:

“A fresh team is probably going to thinking clearer.  The rest of us can continue working in support of that new team.”

Characteristics of the third and final stage of change leadership are acceptance, exploration and experimentation.  Carefully led and managed these result in integration and improvement.  Initially it’s important to capitalise on the ideas of the team through encouraging creative thinking.  Glynn Lunny, who replaced Kranz part way through the crisis, was clear that he needed to ask his flight controllers for their recommendations, whilst remaining calm and taking responsibility for the external pressures of time. Fong states:

“Survival depends on an option which is not in the flight manual.  This is as close to a leap of faith as NASA will ever make. Mission operations are supposed to run on carefully prepared checklists with well-rehearsed procedures.  Improvisation is something to be wary of.”

Schools are also closely associated with procedures and dislike improvisation.  At a time of crisis, moving through this stage 3 requires both training and decisions with the recognition that there may be no precedent for required actions.  Training helps get the best out of everyone rather than accepting the status quo, and again may take time.  Having explored a variety of options, at this stage decision making needs to be clear and well communicated.

Back to normality  

I’m aware that many of our children won’t know the story of the Apollo 13 mission, so I won’t give away the ending here, but there is one other timely story to tell.  The original flight crew included the astronaut Ken Mattingly.  During training all crew members had been exposed to the rubella virus through a fellow astronaut.  Mattingly was the only one not to be immune from the disease, and was forced to withdraw from the mission.

As the emergency unfolded, Mattingly found himself called upon to try to develop a procedure for ensuring the safe return of his fellow astronauts through experimentation in the simulator.  His expertise proved invaluable – you might say that he undertook extreme home working!

Where do you think you are currently on the change leadership curve?  Where are the members of your team?  What approach to you need to take to ensure that, following this crisis period, our practice and procedures are stronger and more effective than before?  Which of the god Apollo’s qualities do you most need now?

And whatever your situation over the next few weeks, If you find yourself with some spare time in the next week (!) and are looking for a great family movie, you could do worse than Apollo 13.

This blog was first published on the LTC website in March 2020.

About Jez Bennett
Jez is Principal of the Leadership and Training Centre at 5 Dimensions Trust in Milton Keynes and an Associate of #TeamADL  He is an experienced secondary headteacher, governor and leader, and has particular interests in curriculum and leadership development.  He is also a practising musician as a performer, conductor, composer and teacher, and believes that the arts have significant potential to transform and develop the educational landscape.  You can follow him on Twitter @LTC5D

Leadership, Purpose, Uncategorized

It can feel lonely at the top!

By Cole Andrew, BA(Ed), NPQH, AdCert

Who knew 5 weeks ago that ‘self-isolation’ would be a concept we’d consider a core part of our daily lives in Britain in 2020?  In my 31-year career in education, 25 have involved leadership of teams and schools; the past 18 months supporting leaders as an independent consultant.  The last few weeks have involved conversations and activity supporting school leadership teams in navigating through uncharted waters in a way that I have never experienced before.

Nelson Mandela commented, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”  This is a moment where school leaders are necessarily at the front in potentially dangerous waters.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – John Quincy Adams

Seeing life’s challenges as opportunities is in itself a true measure of growth and success.  Effective leadership teams are needed now more than ever, more so than other worldly measures of success. Life and work have taught me that this requires strong inner leadership as well as acknowledging the responsibility for leading others.   Whatever roles you define yourself by, others are watching, waiting and/or filling the void where leadership is needed.  So, I present myself with a pause for thought and challenge you to do the same … am I leading well in this season?

In this season school leaders are giving all they can muster from within to show strength and chart new paths.  They have listened to the worries of pupils, staff, parents, politicians, family members and their own inner voices.   They have contained most of this with strong character, brave decisions (often not pleasing everyone) and above all been driven to do right by everyone involved.

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”  – Nelson Mandela

In the midst of this I have felt, heard and seen school leaders become more and more emotionally isolated despite physical connectivity with colleagues, family and friends; hence my opening title, “It can feel lonely at the top!”  So, I say to all Head teachers, CEOs, school leaders remember you are not alone, and the work are doing is a service to better the lives of future generations at a time when the current generation struggles to set meaningful measures of success.

Reach out, connect and share your stories, your frustrations and successes.   Like coals in the fire, staying connected with your teams will help you keep warm, keep the flames burning.   Although, you cannot do this physically there are opportunities to chart new paths and create new ways of staying connected   Clearly, the key measure of success in this season will be to survive and help as many as possible do the same.   Let’s also aim to grow through the challenges we face and be ready to thrive when the time comes to bear the fruits of our labours in due seasons to come.


Vigeo Partners Ltd is a leadership consultancy firm supporting leaders in schools to grow; ‘vigeo’: to thrive, to bear fruit, to live in honour.  We also work in association with #TeamADL 

One practical way we are supporting connectivity is to facilitate online School Leaders Network sessions.  They are free, weekly and aimed at helping school leaders worldwide connect and realise they are not alone.  Check out ‘Clear Heads’ events posted on Eventbrite.

For a more structured programme of support for your leadership teams through this season have a look at our programme #Virtual_SLT

Flyer grphic

@Leadership_Cole             office@vigeo.org.uk            www.coleandrew.co.uk





The difference good governance can make to a school!

By Martin Matthews, Lord of Monivea, National Leader of Governance Twitter

When you first walk into a school if there are happy children in clean, warm and well-resourced classrooms chances are governance is good.

Governance is one of those aspects of school organisation where is obvious if its poor and almost invisible when its working well.

I firmly believe that there are three principal strands of any school organisation that underpin success; fantastic educators and leaders, great governance and amazing admin.

Governance starts by setting the ethos of how the adults treat each other. The tone of meetings and how governors interact with senior leaders sets the expectation. This in turn affects how senior leaders work with each other and the rest of the staff. Governors should follow the Nolan principles and see the same from school leaders. This matters as it directly impacts on teacher retention. Treating people fairly starts with the board.

Teachers are the ‘engine room’ of the school organisation and everything else is there to support them to be their best. The happier and more secure teachers feel the more they can concentrate on educating children. In turn this positively affects how and what children learn. Governors are part of how this is achieved.

Most teachers have little need to understand or work with governance. When it comes to pay decisions, they start to take more notice. This is one example of what governors contribute to the organisation. Teachers go above and beyond what most employees do and paying them fairly is crucial to building and maintaining trust within the wider organisation. Governors in maintained schools decide both what percent pay rise all teachers receive and who gets an increment. This is their legal responsibility and it must be done fairly. The pay process is there to protect both school and individuals. Governors guard against “We can’t give a pay award because of the budget”, unfair career inappropriate targets, unfair targets in general and some of the stranger things that pop up like “We can only have one UPS teacher”.

Governance is one of those aspects of school organisation where is obvious if its poor and almost invisible when its working well.

Governors and trustees have two main strands to their work; support and challenge. Challenge should never be aggressive or accusative. Its purpose should always link back to what’s best for the children. Having said that, there should be an intolerance of things that fail the children. Support has many forms from protecting school against the ‘noises off’ that plague education to the Chair working well with the head teacher. For example when the DfE made the decision to adopt an academisation policy, we worked on a Plan B for our school. We involved all the staff and made clear this was a ‘just in case’ to protect our school from enforced changes. This gave reassurance to the staff so they could settle and concentrate on teaching.

When staff understand that governors and trustees are there to champion the children in school and champion school to the outside world what’s done makes more sense. We are volunteers but not amateur and use the skills and experience we bring to make school the best it can be. Anything less is not acceptable. What motivates me as a governor is the sense that every child deserves an equal and fair chance to access the very best education we can provide. All children are ‘worth’ the same; who knows what they will become as adults?

We’d love to hear from other governors: what motivates you and what are the highs and lows of the role?

About Martin Matthews
Martin is a National Leader of Governance (cohort 1). Cumulatively he has been a governor for over 50 years. He has given written evidence to the House of Commons Education select committee four times and has the only MA Ed in governance.  You can connect with Martin on Twitter @mm684

Members of #TeamADL work with and train many SEN Governors.  In fact, some of our team are governors themselves!  Anita Devi has also written a SENCO and governor relationship toolkit.  To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Disability

Scaffolding support in primary PE curriculum for SEND pupils into adulthood

Interview with Jonathan Bhowmick (JB)

With a renewed focus on curriculum this year, Anita Devi (AD) caught up with Actions Mats to ask more about how we support pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Physical Education (PE), as part of the inclusion agenda and active lifestyles.

AD: Hi Jonathan, thank you for your time today.  Tell us a little about yourself.

JB: Hi Anita Well, I am the designer and founder of Action Mats. My background is playground design and working with a school, I was asked by the headteacher to design a solution for engaging pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL).  Hence Action Mats were born.  The mats are a unique PE and active-learning resource created for children between 4 and 11 years old.  The thinking behind Action Mats is to create fitness stations.  These can used in multiple configurations.  They enable ALL pupils to engage in the PE curriculum as well as participate in team building challenges and competitive games. What we have also discovered since from user feedback is Action Mats work well for pupils with a special educational need and disability.  In effect, we have fulfilled our AIM in creating Action Inclusive Mats.

AD: How long have you been operating?

JB: Action Mats was launched in October 2017 and we are now in over one hundred schools in four countries. They were originally created for EAL pupils.  Our vision is for them engage in the lessons and so feel part of the school community.  The unique feature of Action Mats is the simple, yet fun, instructional graphics and symbols printed on each mat. Children of all ages, from any country, can understand these graphics without the need for explanation or translation. This empowers children, giving them the ability to work independently or collaboratively, without the need for teacher/ adult input.  Action Mats are active members of Youth Sports Trust, the Association for Physical Education and UK Active.

Action Mats 1

AD: Did you test the mats with the children?

JB: We tested the Action Mats quite extensively.  In late September 2019, we ran a new trial session at a primary school in Hertfordshire to test our active-learning mats, which incorporate the literacy and numeracy packs.  Thirty-two children in year 4 (8-year olds) tested our level 2 challenge jigsaw race mats.  Each challenge includes sixteen activities.  The activity was delivered as a race.  So, the pupils carry random pieces jigsaw pieces over a course of fitness stations to reach the ‘build zone’. In the Build-Zone, pupils must connect the piece they carry to existing pieces already there. The class was a mixed ability group.

AD: Sounds like quite a high-pace activity?

JB:  It is.  However, from a designer’s point of view, the successful completion of the jigsaw is rather secondary. The objective is for pupils to engage fully in the exercises on each mat. We want our children to be active and see sport, as an important lifestyle choice. A secondary objective is for the whole team to coalesce in the jigsaw build zone to assemble the pieces as a team, collectively. The game fosters teamwork on two levels, during the race section and working together to achieve a common goal.  Ideally before the other team.

AD:  What did you learn from this new trial?

JB:  I was really pleased with how successful the game was. The rationale behind the idea worked perfectly and, as the photos testify, the children were completely engrossed in the challenge.  In particular, the children shared they preferred the numeracy tasks linked to Action Mats and found it helped their concentration.  School leadership commented, “We found the sense of purpose linked to PE activities helpful or children’s learning and we believe teachers could use this accessible resource in many different ways, to engage the children”. As a follow-up, Action Mats was invited to run an active session at a PE Conference in Worcestershire at which we invited twenty PE Teachers to participate in the same game.  There was some initial reluctance, but once the teachers got into it, they found it more challenging than they had originally thought.  Their competitive side also surfaced.  We found their feedback useful.

Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing – Phil Jackson

Action Mats 2

AD: The jigsaw appears to also help the slow down rest period, after an intense period of activity.  Is that how they were designed?  What is the recommended warm up to the fitness stations?

JB: In this scenario, the objective was to race the other team.  However, it is possible to use the jigsaw for downtime.  The Action Mat stations are used for the warm-up through a circuit-based activity.

AD: Can you give us an example where the mats have benefited children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)?

JB: Action Mats are be used by some special schools and we have anecdotal feedback about impact for SEND in mainstream schools. This is an are we are currently developing.

Sports England 2018

(Source: Sport England, 2018)

AD: London 2012, enabled us as a nation to take sport to a new level. Our pledge was to “Inspire a generation”. Yet, in 2018 Sport England reported just over 40% of children in England do an average of more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Our Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2018), which was the first of its kind carried out by Ipsos MORI, showed that around 3 million children (43.3%) lead active lives.  However, of that group, only 1.2 million (17.5%) are meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity a day, every day of the week.  So, there is clearly a need to do more. The report also concluded an insignificant difference in the amount of sport and physical activity that takes place inside school, compared to activity levels outside of school.  Both have a critical role to play. With 22% of children active for at least 30 minutes per day outside of school, while 28% of children do so in school.  How do you think Action Mats can contribute to the national agenda for children of ‘being active and staying healthy’?

Life need not have limits – Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian

JB: Action Mats can be delivered through structured teacher-led pedagogy.  The mats come with easy-to-follow activity cards.  Action Mats can also have high impact through learner-led activities.  So, the mats cover both differentiation and personalisation.  In some schools, Action Mats have promoted Family Fitness Sessions, where parents/carers join their children for stay healthy exercise sessions.  This helps promote good family relationships and positive role models, as well active lifestyles outside school.  Action Mats are portal and on suitable external surfaces can be used outside, in the fresh air.

Sports England 2017

(Source: Sports England, 2017)

AD: At #TeamADL, our vision is ‘Everyone thriving in education, employment and life’.  We were therefore concerned when we read in the 2015/16 survey 51% of adults with three or more impairments are inactive compared with 21% of those without a disability. So, my final question to you, what can we do differently to increase activity for those with impairments?

JB: Take the principles of Action Mats and apply them widely.  In other words, simplicity, accessibility and inclusivity.  Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian once said, “Life need not have limits”.  This is so true of the philosophy of Action Mats.  The mats are enablers for children to stretch themselves that little bit further, with the hope it becomes a lifestyle choice for their adulthood.  Do check out our video and hear what teachers and PE specialists have said.

AD: Thank you Jonathan once again for your time.  We wish you the very best going forward.  Keep us posted of any updates!

To find out more about Action Mats visit: https://www.actionmats.co.uk/

Chrispina Wilson from #TeamADL is also actively involved in supporting healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity for all children and young people. Contact us to find out more.

Disability, Employment, Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Awards are not that we have made it, but proof that organisations are trying to get better!

By Maya Thomas

Awards, I have found are very marmite – you either love them or you don’t.  But do they convey much more than just winners and possible winners? The recent Disability Smart Awards are a great example of this.  Led by Business Disability Forum, these awards where a celebration of breakthrough, innovation and better best practice in businesses, large and small, when it comes to inclusion in the workplace for those with disabilities.

We arrived at the Locarno Suite at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and found our place at a table with others who were also finalists for various awards. We sat with representatives from the Dubai Police, Bank of England, Vindhya e-infomedia and the Highways Agency – each team with a story of making real change for those with disabilities. Each team representing organisations going well beyond what is a legal requirement or policy minimum.

What I really enjoyed was, that it wasn’t just projects that had won that were given the limelight. Our hosts, including Paralympian, Stef Reid, gave a brief synopsis on each of the finalists before the winner in each category was announced. There were so many people in the room who are being responsive in their focus on workplace inclusion and transforming the life chances for those with disabilities.

Herbal Essences won the Disability-Smart Design Award 2019 for a change in design on their bottles that makes it possible for those who cannot see, to tell the difference between the shampoo and conditioner. To put it simply, there are now indentations on each bottle to differentiate one from the other – such an ingenious and brilliant idea!

Herbal essence

The Dubai Police were finalist for numerous awards, and they won the Disability-Smart Technology for All Award 2019 for creating the World’s first smart police station free from human interaction. The impact of this project is cutting edge for everyone, especially where anonymity is vital. In this case, real barriers to access have been removed.

Towards the end of the evening the hosts did a superb job adlibbing for about 10 minutes, delaying the announcement of the Disability-Smart Workplace Experience Award 2019. There was a hushed entrance and the seating of a late guest, before it was announced that MI5 had won the award! Having gone the extra mile, the award was in recognition of 10 years of “Raising Awareness, Removing Barriers and Fulfilling Potential” in the workplace, particularly for those with disability and ill health.

The stories that where shared that night, where often personal and I enjoyed meeting many wonderful people at the awards. It was inspiring to be in the room with people who are passionate about influencing and transforming the life chances and experience for those with disabilities. And, as a finalist for the Disability-Smart Influencer Award 2019 #TeamADL we were in great company, which was a real honour!

#TeamADL are passionate about bridging the gap between education and employment, giving everybody opportunities to thrive in education, employment and life. If you feel are able to get involved, or if you already have a project that is making a difference in this area, please do get in touch. We love to hear stories of what is already happening out there, and journey with others for greater creative solutions. Better still sign our #SENDcareers Pledge or view our case studies page.

To find out more visit #TeamADL

About Maya Thomas

Maya wears many hats! She is Anita’s part-time PA and also Operations Lead for #TeamADL Her role continues to grow and evolve, as Maya unfurls the many layers her skills and talent.  In her own time, Maya gives to the local community as a SEND Governor and takes an active interest in her children’s schools.