Leadership insights from successful schools

Diana Osagie

Monday, 3 June 2019

There is something about great schools that is just not measurable. You cannot hold a leader to account for it; increasing it is hard, losing it is easy.


It’s that vibrancy, purpose, collective wisdom and a lived experience setting each school apart, making it the buoyant centre of young people’s lives.

I was not fortunate enough to attend a school like that. My school tried, it really did, but it failed. I was successful despite my school, not because of it. I was one of those children who had parents that were able to bridge the gap my school left in my educational experience. My parents refused to let circumstance dictate my future.

"We are greater than the sum of our parts…"

- John Green

sale boat lead

So, when I became a head teacher, I was determined to be that ‘parent’ in the lives of young people, building a great local school for the local children from the surrounding estates, like where I grew up. Thousands of school leaders share the same aspiration and this article is an insight into the collective tenets we share.

Every school needs cornerstones. The shared values, behaviours or approaches that knit a community of individuals together. It’s some of the cornerstones of successful schools that we will explore together.


"If we are going to do it, then let’s do it right..."


Poor organisation and management sap the life out of school communities, fuels discontent, and leads ultimately to a lack of success for the young people and those trying faithfully to serve them.

Leaders often find themselves ‘firefighting’, dealing with situations that literally just come up and demand attention. When we as leaders reflect on how many of these situations were of our making, it is uncomfortable reading.

  • The data collection cycle that causes anxiety for teachers because it has been poorly thought out and there is a bottleneck of expectation at busy times of the year.

  • The parents evening poorly attended, not solely because some parents are hard to engage, but because the letters went out late and the texts were not received as the contact details are not updated annually.

  • The poor behaviour in a lesson with a supply teacher, not because of their level of skill, but because the protocol for setting appropriate cover work was not followed and this teacher walked into a lesson with nothing for the young people to do. Senior leaders are called out to deal with the anarchy that follows.

  • The staff evening inset, full of sighs, moans and lack of participation, not because the staff are not interested, but no- one thought to get some decent refreshments. Tepid coffee and Rich Tea biscuits are not enough to stave off the building resentment. 
girl face

Few colleagues function well in the midst of disorganisation, certainly, it is a very tall order to expect staff to thrive and secure excellent outcomes when they have to swim against the lack of organisation tide in school. I maintain, the extra pay that comes with leadership contains a portion that is earmarked for Leadership Thinking.

The time you spend periodically just musing over the way the school functions, how the processes and procedures are affecting colleagues. Reflecting on what could be done differently, what could be streamlined, what is important and needs more attention.

When leaders determine, ‘if we are going to do it, then let’s do it right’, and then collaborate on the best way forward, the school has a great cornerstone ready to underpin success.

You push, I pull…Actually, are we all supposed to be pushing?

The utopia of school leadership

The day when we can confidently say that ‘there is the consistency of great practice across all departments, phases and in all classrooms.’ I have only seen a handful of schools that could come near to claiming this.

Schools are full of lives, emotions, experiences and these change in a heartbeat. One teacher’s skill in delivering the scheme of work can be radically different from another. One middle leaders’ expectation for pupil performance is through the roof, another is content with average.
  • Some colleagues are wanting to push.

  • Some are wanting to pull.

  • Some are not sure and stand in the middle.

So, pupils experience variation within the school and little consistency. It is the job of leaders to bring that consistency of behaviour, approach, language and expectation together. The clarity in all things is required for a school to both improve and then to flourish.

man hands triangle

For example, what do lessons look like in your school?

  • Is there a shared understanding and then a shared practice that holds the learning experience together across the curriculum?

  • Are all staff agreed on what mediocre/good/great/ looks like?

  • Have leaders ensured the CPD programme supports this shared understanding and is able to deliver tangible change to the classroom experience? 

Leaders need to have faith in their vision to bring about consistency in the school community. When the leadership has clarity in what it wants; that clarity of thinking can be applied across all aspects of the school.

If you want to lead a school full of high expectations for the young people, then let high expectations characterise all areas of school life, from the quality of the food to the quality of the teaching, to the quality of communications sent to parents. Clarity means, in all things …some are not pushing whilst others pull. We all push.

All you need is love!

Great leadership involves becoming a master relationship builder. Schools are living ecosystems of relationships and interactions. Leaders need to learn to love. Of course, I don’t mean that soppy, gooey, all-consuming kind of love.

I mean the kind of professional love where you care enough to give your staff decent food on Inset day. You arrange for a new bowl of fruit in the staff room twice a week. You make sure the water fountains are clean and functional, so the community does not melt during the summer months.

reading group

I say you… but I don’t mean that you personally clean the fountains or buy the fruit. But because you love your community, your leadership contains aspects of love which nourish and fuel the relationships in your school. When you take time to reflect on the effectiveness of systems that underpin the community, you do so with an eye on the relationships within, and how your leadership decisions affect them.

Leadership love has great capacity, you will be able to find room for the following:

  • Because I love, I will hold to account my colleagues via systems that are transparent, fair and equitably applied.

  • Because I love, I will hold and expect the highest levels of performance, commitment and support from all, for all. We are in this together.

  • Because I love, I will say that I am a human first, a leader second. I remember the importance of family, love, grace and compassion. 

The foundations of successful schools have many cornerstones buried within them. Leaders at all levels in the community are pivotal in ensuring that the school consciously builds upon them.

Is it easy? No.

Is it possible? Absolutely.

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About our Community Expert

DianaOsagi_BlueCircle-1Diana Osagie
Community Expert | CEO Courageous Leadership Consultancy


After 16 years in senior leadership including six as a secondary headteacher, Diana is now one of the UK’s most recognised education leadership coaches.

She specialises in helping leaders and their teams develop their inner layer of courage; essential for true leadership and resilience.

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