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In conversation with Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive, Education Partnership North East

02 July 2020

We left feeling really inspired after our interview with Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East and Senior Leadership Development Programme Alumni. During the interview Larry Shulman, AoC’s Lead Facilitator of the AoC Senior Leadership Development Programme, explored her approach to the crisis and the impact this has had on her leadership style. Covid-19 has changed the tune of her conversations as she explains throughout her interview.

Ellen explained at the start of the interview that her varied roles in the past, including a time in the NHS, has had a big impact on her leadership skills. She embeds the concept of what it is to be human into her leadership style. Since the start of the crisis she feels that she has discovered she has even more compassion for people than she had before. She has spent a lot of time listening to people and trying to put herself into their shoes. Everyone has individual circumstances and are facing their own challenges with lockdown. She has brought her authentic self to work and has found that her staff are increasingly showing their authentic side back.

It is so important to understand humanness to drive the right culture and the organisation forward.

Senior leaders are being brought into the room and are much more visible since lockdown began. It has reminded her of the importance of spending time with her people. Technology has been an enabler of this and using Facebook workplace has helped to unite the college.

Ellen discussed her top priorities for the college over the past month:

The college has spent a lot of time looking at cashflow, reforecasting and working through scenarios for next year. Covid-19 has sped up the liquidity plan they had worked on prior to the crisis.

They have spent time reviewing the whole college curriculum plan. Ellen has chaired this review and has found it extremely helpful to have detailed insight into their offer. They have looked at their curriculum through the lens of their employers and looked at the implications of Covid-19. Some of their provision they are now stopping, but they have also added some new areas. She emphasised that getting the curriculum offer right is so important.

We are really thinking of the creating the college of the future.

They have reviewed their professional development strategy and have spent a lot of time reflecting on how to develop their people. They will be launching a new professional development centre for staff, currently this will be delivered virtually. It is linked to their communities of practice. They will be offering more support to teachers to help them to enhance their professionalism.

I am optimistic about the college sector being bold and ambitious to support the economy going forward. It is important to press ahead and be optimistic to help to support our students

Ellen has felt very supported by her board during the crisis. They have supported and challenged her, and the time has given her the opportunity to have lots of rich discussions with them. Drawing on the expertise of the board for the college’s future plans has been really important.

Ellen’s top tips for leaders at the moment:

  • Remember there is a big difference between working hard and long hours versus being productive
  • Be human. Find time for humour. Take opportunities to connect with staff about their circumstances outside of the business
  • Don’t manage via virtual meetings and emails, instead trust and empower staff through support and challenge
  • Find yourself a coach or a mentor who will challenge your personal leadership development
  • Seek out development opportunities and build a strong network