By Susan Young
Led a successful innovation in your school or college, or know someone else who has? There’s an award for that….
Think about the times you or a colleague have been the ones to make something happen in school or college. Perhaps your idea helped to transform teaching and learning in one department, or with a particular group of students. Maybe it was the way you led and developed an initiative that got all your colleagues on board and made a change.
What happened next? Thanks from the senior leadership team? More responsibility? The chance to spread your good practice wider? Or did you just move on to the next task?
The BELMAS Reflective Practice Award is designed to recognise and develop educational leaders or teams at all levels who’ve made this kind of difference in their school or college, and demonstrate some element of critical reflection.
The prize includes a fully-funded place at an international education conference this summer where the winner will lead a workshop on their project, £400 cash, and the possibility of having a paper published in a research journal.
The organisation behind the award is the British Educational Management Leadership and Leadership Society (BELMAS) which, uniquely, brings together academics and practitioners. Its chair, Gill Howland, has been pushing for the revival of the award, last made in 2012, because she believes it is vital to recognise the contribution made by educational leaders and spread good practice more widely.
She says: “We give awards for outstanding academic work, and we want also to recognise outstanding work in leadership - in particular in recognising the learning and development that leaders go through on their path to becoming better leaders.
“I think it is hugely important to recognise all the efforts, heartache and soul-searching - as well as the euphoria - that leaders experience when they are testing out and developing their own skills. I want to see authentic, human, thinking leaders, who are courageous, honest and open to new thinking and ideas and who have a clear moral purpose and values.
“Leaders tell us there is less time and less of a culture for practice-led research, reflection and debate. Our practice award aims to stimulate reflection and learning as well as recognise and reward thinking leadership practice.”
The award’s first winner was Rehana Shanks, then depute head of Dean Park Primary in Edinburgh, for a project which helped raise teaching standards at the school. She has since become its head, and also vice-chair of BELMAS itself. “I was really pleased to win the award for my staff – it made a real difference that what we did was recognised externally in this way,” she said.
Rehana’s project supported teachers to work in small groups to look at practice in other schools, sharing research and innovative ideas. Later, they discussed how they could use some of the new ideas for themselves, and reflected on what they had learned. Just six teachers initially signed up, but 21 more joined as they began to see the benefits. “All staff noticed a substantial difference to the quality of teaching and whole community learning experiences in the school. The school was being transformed by the leadership of teachers as a collaborative empowered group of practicing professionals,” said Rehana’s paper. Her then headteacher said the project had transformed the way teachers improved their own practice and that he had never seen anything else with the same effect.
Interested, or know a colleague or friend who would be? You do have to be a BELMAS member to apply, but membership is free for the first year.
Applications need to be in by April 28, in the form of a 500-word submission outlining the project and evidence which would be provided if the entry was long-listed.
If your project makes the longlist, you’ll be asked for a 2,500 word paper on how the innovation was led, what improvements were made, and with critical reflection which might include the consideration or use of published research, self-evaluation of leadership, or examining wider policy or learning implications.
The winner will get a funded place at the BELMAS international conference being held in Stratford-upon-Avon this July, with the chance to hear major educational speakers and presentations on leadership research. They will present a workshop session there, and also receive their formal award at the conference dinner.
An article on the innovation may also be considered for publication in a BELMAS journal.
Interested? Know someone else who might be? Full details are here, and why not share them with others? Middle leaders deserve wider recognition for what they do, and professional development opportunities like this are few and far between.
About Susan Young
Susan Young is a journalist who has been specialising in education for more than 20 years. She was news editor and an assistant editor on the TES, where she created and edited a section for school leaders, and has also worked for the Observer and the Express.
As a freelancer, Susan writes for and works with a range of educational organisations, including the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) and English UK.
She's interested in most things in education, from politics to practicality, but particularly loves hearing from professionals about the initiatives they're putting in place in their schools to make things better. Do get in touch.