An Alphabet Soup For School Leaders

Teachers love an A-Z.

They are a staple standby when you might be looking for an activity for a fast finisher or a wet break. They are quick and easy to dish out but not necessarily quick and easy to cook up.

There are also A-Z lists for grown-ups but this one is ready-made and its for the school’s senior leaders although applies to every ‘souper’ teacher really.

So, the ingredients for an alphabet soup are as follows:

A -ccept and handle responsibility

B -e honest with yourself

C -ommunicate, C -are, and C -elebrate

D -on’t let successes go to your head (and if you are the Head, don’t let being the Head go to your head)

E -mpower others

F -ocus on solutions and successes

G -ain support from all

H -elp others to grow, learn and improve

I -magine greatness

J -ust DO whatever it takes

K -now your stress signs

L -isten, L -ove, and L -augh

M -otivate yourself and others

N -ever forget why you are in the education business

O -open your eyes, ears, mind, heart, and DOOR

P -rocess information before responding

Q -uestion, question, question

R -espect everyone

S -trive towards excellence

T -think of yourself as a worthy person

U -se your talents

V -isualise success

W -ork collaboratively and vigorously

eX -pect challenges and obstacles

Y -earn to learn

Z -ap negativity

Directions: mix everything together and serve generous portions daily. Serve warm.

This is a bit of fun but with a serious message about how a school’s culture is shaped by the senior leadership team and their A-Z approach and way of doing things, especially the Head.

This alphabet soup comes from Neila A. Connors and is something worth adapting to suit your own context and situation.

For example,

You might want to make risk-taking a key part of your school in terms of encouraging your staff and learners to move out of their comfort zones. This could be staff doing golden lessons and pupils putting themselves forward for new challenges.

M -ake taking risks the norm not the exception so everyone steps out of their comfort zone.

Maybe you have been inspired by Mike Fairclough and want staff to ‘go wild’ and not forget the importance of ‘play’ and reconnecting with their childhood.

G -o wild and remember to play for your own wellbeing and everyone around you.

Perhaps it’s time to create your own list of ingredients for your own school soup. What would you put in your pot?

Leadership has very significant effects on the quality of school organisation and on pupil learning.

Another A-Z worth knowing about is Kausor Amin-Ali’s book A-Z of School Leadership: A guide for new school leaders’ which discusses three topics for each letter of the alphabet. 

This offers a more in-depth look at key leadership traits and qualities that get us to pause and reflect.

For example, 

M: Mindfulness

“Making a conscientious effort and being considerate will enrich you in many ways as a school leader. Mindfulness is evidenced when you contact colleagues out of hours. Is it needed? What does this say about your work organisation? Is it a one-off or a regular need to extend the working day into the evenings and weekends?”

This book is made up of 78 entries about school leadership, from ‘authenticity’ to ‘zenith’ and focuses on the role of the leader and how their actions impact colleagues and more importantly the students. 

This is written in a similar way to George Walker’s (2007) book An A-Z of School Leadership and another rich source of leadership experiences and expertise.

In both books, the authors write according to their own vision and values and about those aspects of leadership that mean the most to them.

When creating our own A-Z we have to own our own leadership stories and experiences too according to how we see things.

All leaders will have their own A-Zs but those that are based on and supplemented by research and evidence will be the strongest. These soups of experience contain qualitative and quantitative evidence about leadership actions and behaviours that we know works and so you can use to share and train your Senior Leadership Team.

For example, Leithwood et al (2019) looked at what successful school leaders do and found the following four domains of practice were commonly shared:

1. Setting Directions

  • Build a shared vision
  • Identify specific, shared, short-term goals
  • Create high-performance expectations
  • Communicate the vision and goals

2. Building Relationships and Developing People

  • Stimulate growth in the professional capacities of staff
  • Provide support and demonstrate consideration for individual staff members
  • Model the school’s values and practices
  • Build trusting relationships with and among staff, students and parents
  • Establish productive working relationships with teacher union representatives

3. Redesigning the Organisation to Support Desired Practices

  • Build collaborative culture and distribute leadership
  • Structure the organisation to facilitate collaboration
  • Build productive relationships with families and communities
  • Connect the school to its wider environment
  • Maintain a safe and healthy school environment
  • Allocate resources in support of the school’s vision and goals

4. Improving the Teaching Programme

  • Staff the teaching programme
  • Provide instructional support
  • Monitor student learning and school improvement progress
  • Buffer staff from distractions to their teaching work

How would you fit these into your own A-Z?

And finally…..

MacBeath (2003) says, “Leadership. It is a term full of ambiguity and a range of interpretations. It is a humpty dumpty word that can mean ‘just what we want it to mean’.”

There is no ‘right way’ to lead and there is no ‘secret formula’. Successful leaders draw on their experiences and learn from others.

Start making your own A to Z and fill it with what is important to you and your school.




George Walker (2007) An A-Z of School Leadership, International Baccalaureate Publishing

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